‘The Trick Is to Keep Breathing’ – Janice Galloway

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Are you looking for something light to read before bedtime? Do you need a very thin or funny book to keep you company during your lunch breaks? Or would you like to delight yourself with a book which can relax you and give you some peace of mind? Then let me tell you that ‘The Trick Is To Keep Breathing’ by Janice Galloway is the exact oppose it. But wait a minute!

Just because it is a heavy book doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. Or that doesn’t deserve your attention. It is actually an amazing one, and the fact that it won the MIND/Allan Lane Book of the Year Award back in the 1989 is more than a confirmation. Today it is considered to be a Scottish contemporary classic and I guess that this label says a lot about it.

 ‘The Trick Is To Keep Breathing’ is such an emotionally intense book that makes your heart feel it page by page. It’s definitely not very easy to read. And not solely because it has a sad story, but also because it has been written in a certain manner. I believe there’s no wonder why Janice Galloway is so much appreciated.

Honestly, I had some difficulties at the beginning of the book. The lack of punctuation here and there, the different type of fonts, the repetitions, the words which looked like comments on the right side of the page – they all confused me a little bit. Only a few pages further I understood that she wrote the book like this in order to help us know Joy – who plays the main role – better. To facilitate our access inside her mind and to offer us a clear view over her sufferance.

Even her name – Joy – has been so wisely chosen. The contrast between its meaning and the dramatic experience the character is living has, to my opinion, the purpose to add more “substance” to the story. To make us realize, perhaps, how fragile is the human being. How easily we can fall down and how unfair and ironic is life sometimes.

From the back cover of the book I found out that it ‘resembles Tristram Shandy as rewritten by Sylvia Plath’. I can’t argue on this because to my shame I haven’t read it yet. But ‘The Trick Is To Keep Breathing’ reminded me, somehow, about Jean-Dominique Bauby and his book called ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ – a memoir that I have read years ago.

 Although Joy’s story is totally different from Bauby’s, the both characters have something in common: they seem to be trapped. Whilst the last one is the victim of his own body, Joy Stone is the victim of her own mind. So, the only way we, readers, can get to them is by deciphering their memories. But I better let you read some paragraphs from ‘The Keep Is To Keep Breathing’ book. It will make much more sense.


”No matter how often I think I can’t stand it anymore, I always do. There is no alternative. I don’t fall, I don’t foam at the mouth, faint, collapse or die. It’s the same for all of us. You can’t get out of the inside of your own head. Something keeps you going. Something always does.”
”I like routines. You can get cozy in a rut. You can pretend things are the same when they’re not. Knowing I need to live with lies makes me more anxious, depressed and guilty. This way I need the routines more.”
”The thing is you can spend so much time in this fantasy future you miss what the hell is going on under your nose, i.e. The Present. This Moment in Time. What passes for Now. I pulled out grey hairs and didn’t notice my mother’s because they’d always been there. When she got sick I didn’t believe it. When she died I didn’t want to know. She was most likely pretending to get attention, trying to make feel guilty.”



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