Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
Rating - 7/10
This is one of those books where once I saw the cover, I thought that it looked like such a sweet read! I liked the gingham checkered print on the title of the book, as well as the quirky illustration, and it looked like it would be a lovely and easy read. I received a free Advance Review Copy of this book from Algonquin Books and I’m so glad that they reached out to me to review it! Thank you so much Algonquin Books!! I was also a part of a fun blog tour, and it’s always so nice being a part of the bookish community. One of the many perks of being a book reviewer :) You meet so many lovely people!
I also LOVED that the book was set in Ireland. Shout out to my auntie Margaret, an awesome Irish lass!
Lets get on with the plot & review shall we?
The setting is a fictional small village in Northern Ireland called Aghybogey.
We follow Majella O’Neil, a heroine like no other. Majella lives a quiet unassuming life caring for her alcoholic mother and working at the local chip shop, where she watches all of her regular customers come and go in this very routine and mundane atmosphere. Majella is at her happiest being away from the spotlight, the stares and the endless gossip of the small town she lives in. She wears the same clothes everyday to work, an uncomfortable and too tight overalls, and eats the same dinner each and every night, fish & chips microwaved at home, and watches the same show on DVD, Dallas. All from the comfort of her bed.
Underneath Majella’s ordinary and plain life, there are other major circumstances that have rocked her world. Such as her father’s disappearance, & that every single person in her town has been affected and changed by The Troubles & the lingering divide between Catholics & Protestants. When Majella’s predictable life is upended by the mysterious death of her grandmother, she comes to the realization that there may be much more to life than the never ending gossiping of Aghybogey, the chip shop and the local pub. She maybe thinks that there may be a much bigger world outside her small town.
Well if there is one thing to be said after reading this book, is that I have never craved a fish & chips meal as bad as I did while reading this book and after! Oh boy! I miss my chippy so much! What a nostalgic read this was.
Majella is quite a character. We follow her throughout this entire book and we really get to know life in Aghybogey through her eyes. Majella is quirky, sweet, unbothered, real & very much an introvert. She doesn’t like being in social situations either. I actually quite liked her character, Gallen truly delved into the oddities and quirks of Majella and her personality. She is also very funny and naive, especially for a 27 year old. But you soon discover why she is the way she is.
Nothing much happens in Aghybogey, it is your typical small town village but with a shit ton of history and leftover scars. I quite liked the everyday routine of her life. Everyone knows everyone’s business, and the chip shop “A Salt & Battered!” where she works at, and always opens with the same line, “What can I get chew” is brilliant! The chip shop is visited by the local people in her village and the drunkards who come in routinely and order the same dinner they always do. I actually got into this routine style of the book quite a bit. It was very comforting and familiar to read.
The book is split into these brief sections of where Majella takes us through her day to day activities and routine life, and tells us her likes and dislikes in the title of each section. It was quite an interesting format. At first, I was a little confused by it but once you settled into the book you kind of understood why Gallen did it in this format. I actually have to say that I really liked the writing style that Gallen had in this book. It’s all written in an Irish accent. A very strong Irish accent! It made the story and book feel more authentic! I generally always love writing styles like this. Where the writer writes the story as how the characters would speak it. It didn’t take very long for me to adjust to reading the style of writing at all! But maybe that’s because I have been to Ireland and also lived in England for many years. I know I know! Totally different accent!! Haha but it sort of helps! I actually think that the audio book for this would be really awesome! It’s narrated by the actor Nicola Coughlan from the sitcom, Derry Girls. In fact! If you liked Derry Girls, then you will definitely like this book!
I liked that Gallen also touched on the history of the Good Friday Agreement through the aftermath of the villagers, and how they now live their lives. You can only imagine what a little northern town like this went through during this harsh time period. This book is set in a course of one week in November and 10 years or so after the Good Friday Agreement.
I would say, if you are a person who loves a good routine or lives a structured life, then you will love this book! It’s a very comforting and quite darkly funny read! I found Majella to be quite a feminist which you guys know I absolutely love. She sort of does what she wants and doesn’t care about what others think of her. I liked her character a lot.
The only negative points I had about the book was that if you are the kind of person who expects drama, and a stronger storyline, then you probably won’t love this read. It’s quite same-y and monotonous, and I do wish the book was a tad shorter....but those points aside, I genuinely did enjoy the reading process of this book. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, hence my rating, but I did enjoy reading the book itself. Also, it encouraged me to learn a little more about The Good Friday Agreement! Plus I love Irish culture and small town living types of books.
This is a total comfort read and I definitely recommend it if you love a good ol cozy winter read. Also great if you like a bit of dark humor too! I will say that Majella is definitely a character that I will remember for years to come.
I obviously had to pick a song by an Irish artist, 1 - because there are so many awesome Irish artists that I actually listen to, & 2- it would be criminal not to pick an Irish artist.
I wanted a song that was comforting, melancholy & nostalgic. Also I feel like this song describes the relationship between Majella & her father. My song pick is by the incredible and awesome band, The Cranberries & the song is ‘Linger’. Bit of a classic tune. Love it.
A little about the author, Michelle Gallen:
From her website-
“I was born in County Tyrone in the mid 70s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between the ‘Free State’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. The border between these territories dominated all our lives. In the late 1960s, 19 roads criss-crossed Donegal and Tyrone in our local area. By the 1970s, just one ‘official’ road was left usable after the British Army blew up and barricaded the ‘unapproved’ roads and bridges. This campaign dramatically impacted communities on both sides of the border throughout my childhood and teens.”
Genre: Contemporary Fiction | Coming-Of-Age
Published Date: December 2020
Pages: 320 Pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books