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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen.
Published 20th February 2020 by John Murray.
Read March 2020.

Majella's life revolves around routine and this allows her to cope in the little world she has made for herself.

Shuttling between her job at the chip shop, being tucked up in her room watching Dallas, and the occasional night out at the pub, she does her best to ignore the parts of life she doesn't really understand - and keep a distance from her drunken mother as much as she can. Other people certainly find her strange, but she keeps herself to herself and finds her rituals comforting.

But change is coming Majella's way, whether she likes it or not. After her grandmother is attacked and dies, Majella begins to realise that she may be missing something and she may not be able to keep shutting in the upsetting parts of her life forever.

Is it time for this big girl to make her mark in this small town?


I love a book that throws you in at the deep end with it's use of language and this one certainly does that - forcing you to start out like a wean splashing around trying to stay afloat, but turning you into a true pro who can co-ordinate their oxters into a pretty convincing butterfly by the closing pages. I haven't enjoyed myself quite so much negotiating vernacular since Trainspotting! Good job, Michelle Gallen!

So, what is Big Girl, Small Town all about? Well imagine a lovechild between Anna Burn's Milkman and Derry Girls, and it will give you an idea. Majella, our lovely autistic hero, breaks down her days in terms of the lists of things she likes and dislikes about her life in the border town of Aghybogey - and the wisdom she has learned from repeat viewing of videos of Dallas.

Routine is what gets her by and her rituals keep her more or less sane in a world that she does not understand. Who does, Majella, who does?
She has learned that sometimes you have to respond to conversation, and with a few standard responses/shrugs she manages to get by - she is a dab hand at the "blank face" - but really she just wants to be left alone.

But change is coming for Majella, and maybe the time is right for her to have some of the things she has been missing? Time to escape? You go girl! And being along for the ride has been an absolute pleasure!

I am totally in love with this wonderful experience of a book, having found myself rooting for Majella from page one. It is hilarious at times, deeply emotional and often surprisingly profound. I am not ashamed to say that I did not want it to end and cried my eyes out when it inevitably did.

"WhatcanIgetchew?"... more Michelle Gallen, please!

From the cover of the book:

Routine makes Majella's world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

*Stuff Majella knows*

-God doesn't punish men with baldness for wearing ladies' knickers

-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes

-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn't know*

-That she is autistic

-Why her ma drinks

-Where her da is

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.

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