book review: The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway


Dalkey Press, 1989


The Trick Is to Keep Breathing is grief’s answer to The Bell Jar; a stark and honest depiction of one woman struggling to cope in the aftermath of her illicit lover’s death. Janice Galloway seamlessly depicts the virtual impossibility of functioning while grieving; how it creeps into every facet of your life and renders you a shell of yourself. But at the same time, this story quickly graduates past its initial premise: it’s clear that the ironically named Joy was never really fine, that the existential dread she’s experiencing was always there beneath the surface, that her lover’s death only served to unearth it.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, as Galloway’s prose is so accomplished and her insights so sharp. It’s also a rather experimental novel, especially for 1989, playing with fonts types and sizes and margins, its stream of consciousness style taken to stylistic extremes. I found this to be an intense and stimulating read, my one complaint being that its repetitive nature didn’t always work for me, though it was clearly intentional. Anyway, an essential read for anyone interested in mental health narratives (and Scottish lit!). I’m very happy that a Goodreads group I’m in found this hidden gem that had previously not been on my radar.

7 thoughts on “book review: The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

    • I hadn’t heard of it either! This Goodreads group I’m in reads mainly book prizes, but also has a monthly group read of some random backlist book and this was January’s, so I ordered a used copy for $3 and it turned out to be a fantastic investment!

      Liked by 1 person

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