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The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989)

by Janice Galloway

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5221435,257 (3.8)33
Janice Galloway's inventive first novel is about the breakdown of a 27-year-old drama teacher named Joy Stone. The problems of everyday living accumulate and begin to torture Joy, who blames her problems not on her work or on the accidental drowning of her illicit lover, but on herself. While painful and deeply serious, this is a novel of great warmth and energy: it's the wit and irony found in moments of despair that prove to be Joy's salvation. First published by Polygon in 1989 and Dalkey Archive Press in 1994, now available again.… (more)
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A seemingly unceasing descent to madness, The Trick is to Keep Breathing has interesting tricks up its prose. Words and phrases break down, split, and transform, sentences lose itself midway and regain their momentous back only to incoherently mesh with each other, as they steer the novel’s gnawing touch of realism. Depression enshrouds it all in its despair and darkness; the dullness and repetitive nature of work further puts weight against the novel’s already heavy narrative. In spite of its largely threatening gloom, it strips the layers of stigma against mental illness down to a degree without romanticising or highlighting it as a mere pity party; the accurate portrayal of the overwhelming lack of understanding perpetuates abuse, manipulation, at times sexual coercion, even the disgusting manner of how people treat it as a laughable matter. And the mental health care system here, as much as a reflection of reality, is thoroughly frustrating and ugly which deeply represent the problematic disregard and insensitivity not only from the government but also mental health professionals themselves. It is expectedly disappointing. Only the inclusion of family history of mental illness on the female side is a little uneven and is grazed upon in haste as it sits between unsuccessfully dying and unsuccessfully living. Nonetheless, The Trick is to Keep Breathing gasps for air in relief after nearly drowning near its end; a hold onto any fragile thread of survival just to keep going. ( )
  lethalmauve | Jan 25, 2021 |
The narrator of this novel is Joy, a 27-year-old women who works as a drama teacher and is struggling with depression, anorexia, and alcoholism. The accidental death of the married man who was her lover prompts a breakdown which leads to her spending time in a mental institution (where she doesn't get much help). The fractured narrative uncovers both the events of her traumatic events and the societal expectations of women that have lead to her current state. This is a challenging book to read, both due to the raw emotions of an honest appraisal of depression, and the stream of conscious style of writing. One feature Galloway uses is adding snippets of text to the margins as if Joy is annotating the novel. It took me waaaaay too long to finish reading this book, but I'm glad I did because it is a powerful story of mental health issues that are too often hidden. ( )
  Othemts | Sep 3, 2019 |
Janice Galloway's "The Trick is to Keep Breathing" is the story of Joy, a woman who is struggling with depression after the death of her lover Michael. The emotion is palpable and raw in the story, which at times made it a difficult read, as were Joy's efforts to find help only to be rebuffed and passed some pills instead.

This definitely isn't the book to read if you're going through a hard period in your own life. ( )
1 vote amerynth | Aug 1, 2019 |
This book has been sitting on my shelves for a while now, and I think I chose exactly the right time to read it. Although my depression has thankfully not been triggered by anything as traumatic as Joy's experiences, I could relate to a character who is in freefall and trying to save herself. It's a powerful book, but not overpowering. There's not a lot of action but there is so much depth, and I loved the fact that there were no buzzwords or cliches to trip the flow of the story up. And the writing is flawless - I could actually feel the cold and smell the mould in the air of Joy's abandoned cottage, a cottage which is so symbolic of her mind and journey. This is one of those books where you're left wondering about the character at the end...I hope she made it out ok. I've spoilered this section, because honestly at one point I really thought she was preparing to commit suicide. I'm thankful that Galloway avoided that outcome. I hope things got better for Joy. ( )
1 vote SadieBabie | Jun 23, 2018 |
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For Alison and Margaret and Drew
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I can't remember the last week with any clarity.
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Janice Galloway's inventive first novel is about the breakdown of a 27-year-old drama teacher named Joy Stone. The problems of everyday living accumulate and begin to torture Joy, who blames her problems not on her work or on the accidental drowning of her illicit lover, but on herself. While painful and deeply serious, this is a novel of great warmth and energy: it's the wit and irony found in moments of despair that prove to be Joy's salvation. First published by Polygon in 1989 and Dalkey Archive Press in 1994, now available again.

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