Contemporary times are not easy to deal with; our époque might be confusing, especially to those who are oversensitive. The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, a novel by Janice Galloway published in the UK by Polygon in 1989, deals with an important problem for the contemporary generation – depression.
The story is told by 27-year-old teacher Joy, who is an alcoholic, a typical femme fatale and suffers from depression; she had an eating disorder, she spent seven years in a strange, cold marriage. Later she jumped into a ‘happy’ (in her mind) relationship with a married man, but there were many things she didn’t know about him at that time; she didn’t realise that Michael wrote his diary in code, for example.
Also, her relationship with her family is bad and finally, she ends up in hospital. Almost at the end of the story, she confesses, ‘I am not a bad woman’. The key words from the last chapter, ‘I forgive’, symbolise the beginning of new life for her, as they allow her to clear herself from negative emotions.
The Trick Is To Keep Breathing is full of unexplained mysteries; until page 60 the reader is not aware of the reason for Joy’s mental state; also there is some tension when Joy waits for a mysterious lady. Later it turns out that the expected guest was a health visitor, but the reader is still not aware why Joy has the health visitor.
The author uses Barthes’ narrative structure like an enigma – resolution with 5 codes: the symbolical code refers to a psychological problem of Joy’s: she constantly lists things she ate and things to say to the doctor. The cultural code applies to Joy’s philosophy (‘God is missing’), and plot clichés us. The semantic code is hidden in cultural stereotypes, as in Joy’s relations with her ex-husband; ‘I learnt to cook’. The proairetic code refers to events ‘announcing’ future goings-on and the hermeneutic code uses its mystery to build tension.
The book consists of good plotting and interesting characters and Janice Galloway perfectly portrays contemporary society with its stereotypes and cultural values, where depressed people are almost invisible. However, many profanities used in the novel should be censored, although they were used intentionally – to emphasise Joy’s anger.