The Trick is to Keep Breathing charts the grieving process of protagonist Joy Stone after the death of her married lover, Michael. The novel tracks Joy’s mental deterioration and society’s reaction to this.
Where a plot is usually based on external events developing chronologically, the narrative of The Trick is to Keep Breathing is not chronological. It is an account of one character’s internal experience.
The narrative is a series of snapshots of thoughts, memories and selected moments. They are not ordered; they simply are written as they occur to Joy the narrator. In literature, this is called ‘stream of consciousness’.
The events of the story can therefore seem confusing at times. Like Joy, we can feel muddled and bewildered as we try to piece events together. But this is Galloway’s intention. She successfully locks us inside Joy’s mind. The overall broken and distorted sensation of not fully understanding the world is what Joy experiences.
Joy becomes increasingly detached from other people as she struggles to find meaning and a will to go on. The development of events is interspersed with flashbacks to Michael’s accident in italics.