Big Girl Small Town By Michelle Gallen
‘Big Girl Small Town’ is Michelle Gallen’s debut novel and was shortlisted for The Costa First Novel Award.
Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way. But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.
I was immediately drawn to this book after it was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel of the Year written by a Northern Ireland author and nothing could prepare me for the pleasure and joy this story provided during lockdown.
The story is seen through the narrative of Majella, a woman who lives with her mother and works in the local chippy with her friend called Marty. Majella likes the simple pleasures in life, ‘Dallas’, cleanliness and good hygiene. The story starts with the police investigation into her grandmother’s murder and its latest developments which is the talk of the small rural town.
Everyone wants to know everyone’s business, but Majella prefers to keep herself to herself. Her mother hasn’t recovered, after her father suddenly disappeared and spends most of her time feeling sorry for herself and drinking.
The story is mostly based in the chip shop called A Salt an Battered! that Majella works in and this setting provides hours of entertainment with residents from the local, gossipy town coming in for their curry chips whilst putting the world to rights under Majella’s watchful eye.
As a a native of Northern Ireland, I am slightly bias that we produce some of the best comedy writers with our unique dialect and sayings. And for me ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ wholeheartedly embraced it with one liners that made me roar with laughter and snort at the sheer timing of lines as well as names of the characters and the history of their titles.
Majella herself, is the star of the show. She’s not backwards in coming forwards and has a sensitive soul that takes no crap. I envied her for her enjoyment for the simpler things in life and also felt such an empathy with her with her troubled relationship with her mother.
The book has been described as ‘Milkman’ meets ‘Derry Girls’ and I’m saddened to say that I couldn’t get into ‘Milkman’, for me it was a difficult book. But this book was a joy to read from start to finish and one that I wholeheartedly enjoyed, with relatable characters and scenarios and anecdotes.
With an insightful protagonist and a sharp tongue that observes the drama and rumour mill of a small Irish community wonderfully. ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ embraces Irish wit and drama tremendously and showcases the wondrous and occasionally complicated sayings that keep people on their toes in this fantastic debut novel.
You can buy ‘Big Girl Small Town’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.