Janice Galloway Biography
Nationality: Scottish. Born: Kilwinning, Scotland, 1956. Education: Glasgow University, M.A. 1978. Career: Welfare rights worker, 1976-77; teacher of English, Strathclyde Regional Council, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1980-89. Awards: Scottish Arts Council book award, 1990, and MIND book of the year/Allan Lane award, 1991, both for The Trick Is to Keep Breathing; Cosmopolitan /Perrier award, 1991, for short story writing; Scottish Arts Council book award, 1991, for Blood ; E. M. Forster award in literature (American Academy of Arts and Letters), 1994; McVitie's prize for Scottish Writer of the Year, 1994; Times Literary Supplement research fellow, British Library, 1999. Agent: Cathie Thomson, 23 Hillhead Street, Hillhead, Glasgow G12 8PX, Scotland.
The Trick Is to Keep Breathing. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1989; Normal, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1994.
Foreign Parts. London, Vintage, 1995; Normal, Illinois, DalkeyArchive Press, 1995.
Where You Find It. London, Jonathan Cape, 1996.
Blood. London, Secker and Warburg, and New York, Random House, 1991.
Editor, with Hamish Whyte, New Writing Scotland 8. Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Press, 1990.
Editor, with Hamish Whyte, Scream, If You Want to Go Faster. Aberdeen, Association for Scottich Literary Studies, 1991.
Editor, with Marion Sinclair, Meantime. N.p., 1991.
Editor, with Hamish Whyte, Pig Squealing. Aberdeen, Association for Scottich Literary Studies, 1992.
Editor, with Hamish Whyte, New Writing Scotland 9. Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Press, 1991.
Editor, with Hamish Whyte, New Writing Scotland 10. Aberdeen. Aberdeen University Press, 1992.
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Hailed by novelist John Hawkes as "a Scottish Poe of the lower middle class," Janice Galloway writes a grimly detached yet eerily familiar fiction that combines minimalist style, formal innovation, contemporary subject matter, and Gothic sensibility. In a bleak and sometimes blackly humorous manner, she chronicles various forms of social and psychological oppression, particularly as experienced by women.
The Trick Is to Keep Breathing creates an unnerving atmosphere of fragility and menace as it traces one woman's efforts over the course of several weeks to deal with the death of her married lover. "This Is the Way Things Are" in the post-Trollope world of the novel's ironically, indeed oxymoronically named narrator-protagonist, Joy Stone: straitened, empty, in-between in every sense, caught for the most part (as is the reader) in a perpetual, numbing present. On the one hand, Joy is too independent and intelligent to accept the bromides dispensed by the modern therapeutic community; on the other, she cannot entirely escape feeling that she is the problem: inadequate and therefore guilty, insufficiently persistent in her behavior or "realistic" in her attitude. Compounding her situation is the fact that she is a woman (depression and suicide run in the family on the female side) and a Scot. "Love/Emotion = embarrassment: Scots equation. Exceptions are when roaring drunk or watching football. Men do rather better out of this loophole." Joy does rather worse in any and all of her roles: teacher, friend, patient, lover, Other Woman, "harridan," and would-be princess awaiting the arrival of her prince.
Withdrawing further into herself, perhaps dangerously so, and out of necessity making do with the little that is financially and psychologically available to her, she fills in the blank that her life has become with writing that proves just as compelling as it is disturbing. At once highly fragmented and omnivorously, obsessively multifarious, her narrative includes the postcards she receives from her one (geographically distant) friend, the replies she writes, the lists she compiles, the pop-song lyrics she hears on the radio, the advice columns she reads in the tabloids, dramatized scenes depicting her brief encounters with others, painful memories, even marginalia. Surveying the contemporary wasteland from her bleak council housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow, shoring the fragments against the ruin but without benefit of T. S. Eliot's "mythic method" and all it metaphysically implies, Joy seems less the latest version of the hysterical woman, the madwoman in the attic, than the female writer in a room not quite her own (it belongs to her dead lover) but able nonetheless to write in a voice at once entirely original yet filled with the echoes of Galloway's literary precursors, chief among them Plath, Kafka, Scheherazade, Stevie Smith, James Kelman, the Dickinson of "After Great Pain," the Beckett of The Unnamable, and Krapp's Last Tape.
Where Galloway's novel takes something comparatively small and expands it, minutely and almost unbearably, the twenty-two stories that make up Blood move in the opposite direction toward an equally intense and unnerving compression. Long or short, Galloway's goal remains the same: giving voice to repressed narratives. In the novel Joy claims that she cannot actually scream; she can only write "it" down. In the collection, "Things stick … in her throat that she would never say," her "voice full of splinters." The five "Scenes from the Life" take the form of little plays having little or no dialogue. In "Two Fragments," a woman remembers her mother's macabre versions of how her father lost two fingers and her grandmother an eye—not during the war but while hungrily eating fish and chips, not while breaking a piece of coal but while trying to kill a cat by boiling it alive. "Faire Ellen and the Wanderer Returned" retells the Odysseus myth from a contemporary Penelope's point of view. Stories such as "Love in a Changing Environment" take literary minimalism to a chilly and chilling extreme, whereas the phantasmagoric "Plastering the Cracks" recalls the repressed protagonist of Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Throughout the collection there is the sense of trust and especially of innocence betrayed: The father who tricks his young son into falling from the fireplace mantle in order to teach him the lesson, "Trust nae cunt," the woman who comes to the aid of an elderly man who has stumbled only to have him strike out at her. In the title story that opens the collection a young girl's having a tooth extracted becomes a horrific study in female shame, and in the haunting novella-length "A Week with Uncle Felix" at collection's end, speechlessness and sexuality come together in a particularly suspenseful and disturbing manner wholly characteristic of Galloway's larger aesthetic and unprogrammatically feminist concerns.
Foreign Parts is, for all its broad hints of comedy—two friends and opposites, Rona and Cassie, take to the French countryside on holiday—imbued with more than a wisp of tragedy. "The knight on the white charger is never going to come, Rona," Cassie says. "You know why? Because he's down the pub with the other knights, that's why."
—Robert A. Morace