Janice Galloway The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Style / Form of the novel
The Trick is to Keep Breathing adopts a diary style first person narration, allowing the reader to form a close relationship with the main character, Joy Stone. Structurally we are allowed access to both the private and public life, with reflections into the past written italicly, and the present recorded in normal typography.
Whilst the narrative adopts the appearance of a stream of consciousness style narration, it is in fact carefully contrived and mediated by Galloway, this is evident in the carefully constructed syntax, and often provocatively humerous yet politically charged anecdotes. Galloways authorial presence is felt through Joys narration.
Main Character: Joy Stone
Joy Stone is a teacher who after the accidental drowning of her partner, whilst on holiday experiences a complete nervous breakdown. Through the process of grief, Galloway examines the position of women and the roles they are required to adopt, and offers a critique of the traditional treatment of women. The opening sentence of the novel sets the tone of alineation which runs thoughout, "i watch myself from the corner of the room," There is a sense of disembodiment, and analytical distance which is maintained, though we sympathise with Joy's situation we remain as observers to anothers obscure pain. Joy herself though severely depressed is scarcely emotional, her distress and pain is recorded with an almost aloof coldness, we do not witness the extremes of emotion she occasionally mentions, such as the mark on the wall where she once threw a glass, and the times that she reports sceaming with David. It is hard to imagine Joy possessed by such wild passions, this perhaps is because she has become too disembodied, she is experiencing a complete loss of identity.
In part, this loss of identity could be derived from Joy having no place to grieve for Michael. She is not his mother - wife - sister or daughter, she is simply his mistress, which has connotations akin to being a prostitute. She has no real place in society, her parents are dead, she is no ones daughter, no ones wife mother or even girlfriend. Her job is the place where she earns her definition, however she is treated at work like a little girl, asked to smile and appear happy for the benefit of the other staff, to ease their working day.
Part of her illness is that she has stopped 'behaving' and refuses to be pliant and obedient, the desired state if any women. Thisn is demonstrated through the dialogue style interactions she reproduces, which appear like scenes from a drama. Most of these interactions occur between Joy and a male, be it a doctor, psychiatrist or boss. Her refusal to assume the desired role demonstrates her disengagement with societal norms. Galloways authorial presence is felt in these sometimes humerous sometimes despairing interactions. Galloway offers a close examination of the ritualistic norms expected of women, the preparation of tea for the health visitor requires a lot of effort, but as Joy notes "it's a set routine so i don't need to think. It just uses my body and runs itself," the whole process is so expected, it has become ingrained and internalised. The house must be scrubbed thoroughly "until my hands are swollen from cold water" then the biscuits must be carefully selected and bought and tastefully arranged, and afterwards are thrown out, no longer usefull. Joy also engages in a lengthy bathing ritual, akin to a religious clensing, the dirt and sin scrubbed away, once a blank canvas she repaints herself with makeup, drawing on the smile, and colouring in the eyes, until she feels she is acceptable for male eyes. Though the work and effort behind such preperations is kept secret, and taken for granted by the world. As joy notes towards the end of the novel, "neat phrases hide hard work' here expectation hides hard work. In this novel Joy is stripped of everything, stripped of all normal sustinance, Galloway notes that she wished to examine what would keep this woman getting out of bed everyday, it is because there is no other choice, we have to take what small pitance there is on offer and build on it. This, Galloway believes is heroism, what makes human beings great. This is an essentially feminist take on greatness, the examination and appreciation of the perportedly small actions which make life.Joy emerges at the end of the novel as a women on her way to regaining her identity. This occurs when she adopts the pen, and begins to nurture herself, finding her own voice and using it.