Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I've just finished reading Janice Galloway's acclaimed novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing and I'm in two minds about it.

To give you an idea of what it's about here's a snippet from an Amazon review: "Galloway is writing in a long-established tradition of confessional fiction with mentally disturbed women at its centre". It's been compared with Plath's The Bell Jar which, surprisingly enough, I've yet to read.

'The Trick...' certainly was a good read, in fact I read it in a day. But the ending seemed a bit staid for me. Perhaps I was looking for a suicide or an otherwise dramatic turnabout. The lack of visual imagery didn't lend itself to me either, I think it was on Galloway's website that I read she just doesn't find the Scottish landscape inspiring.
The biggest problem for me was that I didn't warm to the protagonist which begs the question of whether it is necessary to like the main character in order to enjoy a novel.

I don't think it's necessary to like every part of the protagonist, I'm currently re-reading The Awakening and there's certainly a lot to point the finger at about the main character, Edna, but overall I have a fondness for her an a certain level empathy. With Galloway's protagonist, 'Joy', I had no sense of empathy and thus no sympathy for her either, I just didn't connect with her on any level.
As a side note, I'm also reading Virginia Woolf's
To The Lighthouse and pleasantly surprised to come across a character called 'Sorley' which is a novelty!


Rachel Fox said...

You must read 'The Bell Jar'! I prefer it to her poetry... or at least I did years ago when I read it. It probably was about 20 years ago...(pause to feel old).

I was really pleased there wasn't a suicide at the end of Galloway's book. Suicide gets used so often as a dramatic way to end books and films and TV programmes and as someone with a major one in the family I always feel...the suicide isn't the end...it's the beginning of everything else!

I didn't love the book either but it's somehow not wanting our love in any way and that is..unusual in these 'look at my misery and love me' days. Jim's comments on it were interesting (back in my comments somewhere the other week).

Sorlil said...

Yes I think you're right in that the book doesn't really want our love and perhaps that's part of the genius behind it. I'm interested in why she didn't choose suicide for 'Joy', maybe because it is so often used as you said.

Having another quick look at the ending and perhaps it not quite as clear-cut, I don't like the whole 'I forgive you' thing but I'm thinking did she actually recover from the eating disorder, and is she an alcoholic, at the end she reaches for a drink.

yes I've been meaning to get around to The Bell Jar, I loved her short stories before I even knew she wrote poetry.

Dave King said...

I found that reading the Bell Jar helped me to like the poetry more - or maybe it was to understand it more. Certainly, I was more sympathetic towards it as a result of reading the book.

Jim Murdoch said...

Not every protagonist IS likeable or needs to be. Is a sad git being given a good going over by Life any less relevant that a nice guy? Does the sad git deserve it more? None of the protagonists in my novels are heroes, they're all failed human beings to some extent but the point is, and I'm not sure how quintessentially British this is, but we do tend to get in the underdog's corner. Perhaps that's why some men will follow a football team no matter how badly their doing, they don't switch and say, "Oh, I'm supporting this one this year." Or maybe I'm just too soaked in Beckettian misery: if he wrote a non-miserable character I'd be hard pushed to think who it might be.

Sorlil said...

hi dave, I'm already a huge fan of Plath's poetry but I definitely mean to get around to reading The Bell Jar.

hi jim, yes I agree with you, I can't speak about Beckett's characters but Pinter's The Homecoming is certainly full of undesirables and unlikeable characters but I really like the play and feel for the characters in one sense or another. The thing about Galloway's 'Joy' is that I don't just not like her, I actively dislike her and can't connect with her because of that. But this may be a good thing about the book, I've a suspicion it says more about me rather than the book and in hindsight is making me examine my own thoughts

An Honest Man said...

I felt much the same way about Patrick McGinley's 'The Devil's Diary' - no sympathy with any of the characters.

But I've reread it several times which must mean something!

Sorlil said...

yes, when I finished reading 'The Trick...' I thought I wouldn't look at the book again but now I can see myself going back to it at some point down the line, even if it's just to remind myself why I really didn't like the main character!