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Big Girl, Small Town

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Meet Majella O’Neill, a heroine like no other, in this captivating Irish debut that has been called Milkman meets Derry Girls

Majella is happiest out of the spotlight, away from her neighbors’ stares and the gossips of the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up just after the Troubles. She lives a quiet life caring for her alcoholic mother, working in the local chip shop, watching the regular customers come and go. She wears the same clothes each day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, microwaved at home after her shift ends), and binge-watches old DVDs of the same show (Dallas, best show on TV) from the comfort of her bed. 

But underneath Majella’s seemingly ordinary life are the facts that she doesn’t know where her father is and that every person in her town has been changed by the lingering divide between Protestants and Catholics. When Majella’s predictable existence is upended by the death of her granny, she comes to realize there may be more to life than the gossips of Aghybogey, the pub, and the chip shop. In fact, there just may be a whole big world outside her small town. 

Told in a highly original voice, with a captivating heroine readers will love and root for, Big Girl, Small Town will appeal to fans of Sally Rooney, Ottessa Moshfegh, and accessible literary fiction with an edge.

320 pages, Paperback

First published February 20, 2020

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Michelle Gallen

3 books152 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 858 reviews
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
November 25, 2020
If I could rate this 10 stars I would. This is magical, quirky debut novel by a Northern Ireland author that is simply wonderful. I finished this yesterday and I am so sad that I do not have any more Majella to read. I want to pick up on Majella's day. It's hard to explain a book when you are so excited when someone buys a new duvet but you are and it's just a heart warming event.

Majella lives in a small town on the Northern Ireland border and the story takes place about 10 years after the Good Friday Peace Treaty. It is apparent to me that Majella is on the autism spectrum although she has never been diagnosed. She is a big girl and picked on relentlessly both in childhood and now. She has been given the nickname Jelly which she loathes. She has to train herself to look at other people and has learned several phrases to interact with people. She works in the local fish and chips. She and her coworker occasionally have sex because Marjella likes sex. She has a long list of things she does not like.

Majella is in her 20's and lives with her alcoholic mother. Her uncle was killed when making a bomb for the IRA. Her dad disappeared one day (probably not willingly) and no trace has ever been found. Majella lives a very structured life- work, pub and watching the TV show "Dallas". The story is told on a week's events day by day hour by hour. Her grandmother has just been murdered and the events take place after the wake.

It sounds like it could be boring but it is marvelous. As the character Marjella evolves you are rooting so hard for her. She hasn't had a break in life and she trudges on trying to cope with everything going on around her. She struggles to understand people and yet she tries. She is such a unique, wonderful character.

I want everyone to read this book. It will transform you and make your heart sing. I am buying copies to give as Christmas gifts. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. It is a debut novel which is unbelievable. Thanks to NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book to review in exchange for a fair review and to the author, Michelle Gallen, for writing this amazing book.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
650 reviews3,188 followers
July 15, 2020
Set in the fictional Northern Irish border town of Aghybogey, “Big Girl, Small Town” follows a week in the life of Majella, a young woman cruelly nicknamed Jelly by the locals. She works in a local chip shop and lives with her alcoholic single mother (her father disappeared during The Troubles.) The story begins with the dramatic news that her Granny was brutally murdered in her home. An awareness of this simmers beneath the story as we follow Majella's routine existence slinging fried food and caring for her Ma. Prior to this news she lived in relative anonymity, but local interest in the crime makes her an unwelcome focus of attention. There's a humour and wonderful lightness of touch to this story as we view her world through an extensive list of things “she wasn't keen on”. Subjects which encompass her judgement range from the “small talk, bullshit and gossip” to “the political situation”. Throughout the course of the days we see the tedium, absurdity and small-mindedness of this environment. In this way, Majella is granted dignity and power amidst a community that has so ruthlessly defined and dismissed her.

Read my full review of Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,905 reviews35.3k followers
December 1, 2020
Audiobook.... The one star is only for the quality of the audiobook!!!!

I’m walking on a trail right now and I’ve listen to about five chapters of this book in audiobook format which I purchase this morning because of Susan‘s wonderful wonderful review

I can’t understand the narrator —
she’s mumbling -
worse than any narrator I’ve ever listen to.

I saw that netgalley had it available to read so I put in a request.
If they grant me a copy I will definitely read it. If not I’ll purchase it later, if the library doesn’t carry it.

So far I can’t find the book from any of the library‘s I connect with.
I believe it’s a book worth reading — READING being BY FAR A BETTER CHOICE.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews860 followers
February 15, 2021
This was a fine and forgettable read. Big Girl, Small Town follows Majella, a fast food worker on the autism spectrum in the fictional town of Aghybogey, Northern Ireland. Like most post-Troubles lit this deals with lingering tensions between Protestants and Catholics, the unresolved and unstable social climate narratively underscored by the disappearance of Majella's father, who went missing during the Troubles. 

I can't quite put my finger on what didn't work for me, beyond feeling sort of vaguely unconvinced by Majella who felt to me very much like a character in a novel and not an actual person. This felt like it was desperately trying to be quirky but didn't quite have the finesse needed to pull it off; it comes off as rather prosaic and muted. I didn't mind reading this--it's a short book--but I also found it so unnoteworthy that I can't come up with anything else to say about it. Read it if you feel like it but if you're new to Northern Irish lit, there are better places to start.
Profile Image for Karen Witzler.
470 reviews153 followers
April 11, 2021
I loved this book - perhaps I generally have reserved five stars for novels that connect in some deep (and perhaps obvious) way to time and history - but here I felt a seamless connection to Majella and her schedule of daily activities at her home and at the chip shop which then took on the universal shapes of daily life and daily struggles everywhere.

I read this book on an e-reader. I am in my sixties and am a bit alarmed at reviewers who say they can not "hear" the words on the page or laud the accent of the voice actor chosen to read the work aloud to them. I feel loss. I had to look up "craic" but otherwise, my working class Southern US upbringing enabled me to enter the Northern Irish vernacular without a hitch. We'ans are just young'uns in a different town. Michelle Gallens's rendering of Majella spoke in my own mind without intermediary never breaking from form until the very end and this was purely the skill of the writer. I enjoy the silence of reading.

Majella lives on the border of two Irelands: the north and the free state. There are other borders: the working-class and the elite, the Prods and the Taigs, the pretty normal girls and the fat odd invisible ones like Majella. Aghybogey may have been there since the Iron Age; her people surely have been and the reader gradually feels this weight of time in the village, and in the pathways through the borderlands, and on Majella. The troubles are past, Good Friday agreements signed, the British soldiers gone - but as Faulkner noted it will take more than a few centuries for the history to go its way. Majella's family, in this time, has been destroyed by the conflict.

Majella is overweight, mildly autistic, highly intelligent and works in a chip shop. She lives in one of most poverty stricken places in the Western world - unemployment, alcoholism, ghosts of the Troubles are pillars of society in Aghybogey. The book consists of Majella's daily routine for one week from home to work, from shift to shift from cleaning the chip shop to cleaning up after her alcoholic mother, from "Dallas" episode to "Dallas" episode. It is the week after her aging Granny has been murdered and the week before her life may be changed. That Gallen reveals so much within those confines is the quality of the work. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
December 14, 2020
I was a chapter or so into this as an eARC when I read Ron Charles' review that mentioned Nicola Coughlan (Derry Girls) is the narrator, so I jumped to the audio. It is such a strong voice and character study that hearing it really made a difference. By the way, I've seen this compared to Milkman and Ottessa Moshfegh but I liked this more than both of those things.

Majella lives in the town of Aghybogey in Northern Ireland after the Troubles, and leads a quiet life taking care of her mother sometimes and working at a chip shop, the Catholic one; she's never had a Protestant chip! You become acquainted with the town and recent history through her eyes and experiences. The publisher site even has a glossary of terms but I felt most could be deciphered through context.

I did start out with an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley, and it came out December 1, 2020. I still think I'd recommend the audio!
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.3k followers
December 2, 2020
I read most of Gallen’s mournful comedy aloud to my wife, and even with my mangled Irish brogue, we loved it. (Alas, I discovered too late the book’s online glossary, which would have helped me swear with these earthly characters.) But you don’t need me: Just listen to the audiobook of “Big Girl, Small Town” narrated by Nicola Coughlan, the comic genius who co-stars in the sitcom “Derry Girls.”

The “small town” in question is Aghybogey, a fictional village in Northern Ireland soggy with hopelessness. The “big girl” is Majella, a 27-year-old woman living with her alcoholic mom and trying to make sense of the world. That’s not easy under the best circumstances, and Aghybogey doesn’t come close to the best. A few years after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, it’s still strictly segregated between Catholics and Protestants and stuck in an economic slough so old it’s covered in mold. Somehow, the much rumored peace dividend never reached here. Its citizens, mostly unemployed, frequently drunk, carry on their lives in the reverberating echoes of the Troubles.

Majella wants none of that nor any of the petty whispers of village life. “She liked things straight,” Gallen writes. “But things weren’t like that in Aghybogey.” Small talk and gossip lead the list of “stuff in her head that she wasn’t keen on.” No. 5 is “scented stuff.” No. 8 is “Jokes.” In fact, “sometimes Majella thought that she should condense her whole list of things she wasn’t keen on into a single item: Other People.”

But rather than condensing her list, “Big Girl, Small Town” is presented as. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Whispering Stories.
2,594 reviews2,551 followers
August 19, 2020
Book Reviewed on www.whisperingstories.com

Early twenties Majella lives in a small Northern Irish town called Aghybogey. She lives with her mum who is an alcoholic. Her dad disappeared years ago during the troubles and her Granny has just been murdered.

Majella is autistic, though she doesn’t know it. She has a set routine every day. She doesn’t like change, squeaky shutters, gossip, bright lights. In fact, she doesn’t like a lot of stuff, which she notes writes down in categories and sub-catogories and gives them all an id number. She does however like watching Dallas re-runs, painkillers, eating, and sex.

Big Girl, Small Town is an unusual book in that not much happens throughout. It is written in day and time format and each time period is given a title and an id number that corresponds to Majella’s does or does not like list. Such as Wednesday – 6.47pm. Item 7: Sweating. The book is told over the course of one week, the week after Majella’s Granny was murdered.

I found the writing style quite hard to understand at the beginning as it is written in Irish dialect (Quarter tae four. ah’m gonna head on, fer ah’m in at four). Being from the North of England some of the words were known to me, others I didn’t have a clue what Majella was saying, so I have possibly missed some of the plot due to a lack of understanding of some sentences. However, I did find Majella’s Irish voice in my head after a while which was interesting.

Although as stated above nothing really happens except a normal(ish) week in Majella’s life I was surprisingly interested and intrigued and enjoyed the book. Majella is a complex character who lives a complex life. She is emotional and has routines for helping her cope with her emotions and to make herself feel better. Whilst she doesn’t understand jokes, nor like them the book does have some humour and mainly coming from Majella, though she wouldn’t realise it.

Growing up on a Cul De Sac where everyone knew everyone’s business and the adults used to have parties on the street quite often and be in each other’s houses, I could understand Majella’s hatred of people knowing her business and frustration with people prying into her life, even if most were just wanting to pass on their condolences about her Granny.

It might only be one week, but this is the week that Majella learns that there may be more to life than she is currently experiencing and that change can happen in the most unlikely and horrific circumstances.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,583 reviews1,978 followers
December 21, 2020
I really enjoyed this. It's a tricky one to find the right reader for because this is a voice novel not a plot novel, and those always come down to individual taste. But the thing about a voice novel that works for you is that the plot becomes secondary, you're down to follow this character through literally anything because that's the pleasure of the whole thing and this is 100% that.

Majella is finicky, likely neurodivergent in some way though no one has ever told her so. She isn't quite at home in the world but has learned how to get through it. She has lived her whole life in a small town in Northern Ireland and if she isn't content, she is at least comfortable in her routines, particularly working in the chip shop.

When we meet Majella, we don't realize it yet but she's just had a huge upheaval in her life. Her grandmother has been killed, and this is just the latest in a long line of family losses, including her father's disappearance. Many of these losses are from The Troubles, which hang over the story even though they're technically past. Majella still lives with her mother, a deeply dysfunctional alcoholic.

As we go through about a week or so with Majella, her likes and dislikes are cataloged for us. (She has them all in a carefully numbered list.) At first it can feel a little gimmicky, but over time it becomes integral to the way we see Majella, how many things in her life cause her distress or pain that she is unable to show or process. Just how much there is out there that she has to push through in a single day. She is a little flat, not at all an effusive person, but she also has little in her life that she really enjoys. And the more time we spent with her, the more I enjoyed the intricacy of her observations and the way she always carried on.

There isn't a big payoff here, I suddenly realized I was 5 minutes from the end of the audiobook and was almost shocked. But we do end on a hopeful note that makes us think that perhaps Majella is looking for a little bit of change. I would happily read another book about what she does next.

I decided to read this because the audiobook is read by Nicola Coughlan of Derry Girls, and I always love a book with Irish accents. Coughlan is a great reader, she gets Majella's mostly flat affect in the narration, but she does all the voices quite well, they stand at a strong contrast to the narration, which is just as it should be to get us really in Majella's head. I also find that a book that relies heavily on slang that I'm unfamiliar with makes more sense to me when I hear someone say it out loud in context. One of the audiobooks I've enjoyed most this year for sure.
284 reviews5 followers
November 5, 2019
Hailed as another Elizabeth Oliphant but I found Majella a difficult person to empathise with.
For me it was difficult read, I could not find the humour in it and I struggled to get to the end.

I received a free copy of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carmel Hanes.
Author 1 book127 followers
April 24, 2022
I've never been to Ireland, but I want to go now and visit a local fish and chips shop. And I want to sit in a dark corner and watch Majella, this big girl in a small town, and listen to the appealing accents and local words and phrases. Ending the book was like ending a vacation, and it was a hard return. Very well done audiobook!

Clearly Majella exists somewhere on the autism spectrum, with her lists and routines and confusion in dealing with social interactions, despite being intelligent and well-meaning. Hers is not an easy or happy life, dealing with an alcoholic and dysfunctional mother, an absent father (who disappeared and might well be dead), the recent murder of her grandmother, and a history of being teased and rejected. But, she has developed a small loop of this small town to exist in, and we learn about her and those around her as she goes about her daily activities; where nothing happens and everything happens.

This book is centered on character, not plot. It creates the sense of being inside someone's skin as she goes about her business, intersecting with the world around her, remembering past events and trying to make sense of new ones. There were moments of TMI for me, but when one is inside another's skin, one must put up with all the aspects of taking that ride. There was no stone left unturned in learning who Majella was and what had influenced her. And, fortunately, her repeated watching of Dallas and J. R. Ewing did not result in her adopting those behaviors as a model for social skills or moral code.

An interesting character and an interesting dissection of small town life in challenging times.

Profile Image for Anni.
541 reviews71 followers
December 2, 2019
I'm feeling bereft to get to the end of this novel, after spending so many entertaining hours in the company of the indomitable Majella . I was engrossed by her tales of the chippy with all the gossip and the unforgettable characters - not forgetting her co-worker Marty - who knows everything there is to know about any of the customers. I loved reading about Majella’s daily routines, especially as told in the Northern Irish vernacular which spares no blushes. I shall really miss reading more about Majella and hope there will be a sequel.

Thanks go to the publisher for the ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
479 reviews583 followers
October 9, 2022
This novel is set in the fictional town of Aghybogey in Northern Ireland, after the Troubles. Majella O'Neill is a 27-year-old woman who lives with her irresponsible and self-absorbed mother Nuala. Her father disappeared years ago and she still misses him badly, watching Dallas on DVD to remember the happy times they once spent together. And her grandmother was found dead in her mobile home recently, the victim of a brutal beating. So Majella has had to deal with plenty of heartache, but she remains resolute. Her chief purpose in life is a job at the local chip shop, A Salt and Battered, where she serves an array of colourful characters every night. She also has a kind of relationship with Marty, her co-worker, which seems mostly physical. The story follows a week in her life, where Majella will have to deal with further trauma and some big surprises.

It might sound like a depressing kind of story given Majella's circumstances, but it's got lots of humour in it too. Majella is a funny narrator - she has a very cynical way of looking at the world and a sarcastic tone, which makes for plenty of laughs. She is lonely though, that much is obvious, and there are signs that she is struggling to cope with the pressure. It's hard not to feel sorry for her. Gallen does a great job of capturing the comings and goings of a small town, with everybody knowing your business, like it or not. The customers at the chip shop are richly imagined, with Majella knowing the backstory of each of them, even predicting what they are about to order. There is also a sense of community, which she turns away from, most likely because of the hurt and shame she is feeling due to her family situation. The one criticism I would have of Gallen's writing style is that she's not that keen on paragraphs - too often I was faced with a wall of text on a page that made for a less than pleasant reading experience. And I thought the ending was very abrupt, with no satisfactory resolution. But overall I enjoyed this witty, immersive tale of small-town life, and Majella's sardonic voice is what I will remember.
Profile Image for Claire.
644 reviews279 followers
April 10, 2021
I liked the idea of reading a Northern Irish novel that used more of the phonetic vernacular, as was the case in reading Milkman.

Long ago, when visiting there, I bought a slim volume on some of the words used in the North, however being outside of the context of a story or novel they made little sense and in the course of travelling, there wasn't enough exposure to it to hear or understand it. This novel seemed like a perfect opportunity to rectify that. I got so into it, I started writing to a friend about weans and oul wans an shite. She thought I was typing too fast and had not used spellcheck.

Big Girl, Small Town is a week in the life of 27 year old Majella who from the opening page we learn has a list of stuff in her head she isn't keen on, a Top Ten that hasn't changed in seven years and those 10 have subcategory's. The list of things she does see the point in, is much shorter and includes the American TV series Dallas (except for the 1985-86 season).

She lives with her mother in a fictional border town, her father having disappeared years before, presumed not to be living, though no one knows for sure. They have just heard of her 85 year old Granny's death, suspected as murder.

Each chapter begins with a time of day and an item from the list, such as:
4.04 p.m.
Item 12.2 Conversation: Rhetorical questions

and the story is narrated through her regular, unchangeable routine and manifestations of these things that she encounters, like her mother's rhetorical question.
Majella? D'ye not have work tae go til this evening? Majella had work to go to, just as she had done every Monday for the past nine years. and Majella knew that her Ma knew that, because her work schedule and weekly Mass were the only routines their lives revolved around.

Majella works in a local fish and chip shop with her colleague Marty, and each evening we meet a number of local characters, encountering item 3.3 Noise: Shutters in work; item 3.4: Noise: Shite singing; item 1: Small talk, bullshit and gossip; item 8.4: Jokes: Repeated jokes.

There's routine and repetition and though it may seem uninteresting to follow her in this, even the mundane chip counter conversations and orders I enjoy immensely, triggering as they do, a humorous encounter of our own, in a chip shop in Newcastle Northern Ireland in Oct 2019.

I now know having finished the book, why the man at the chip shop looked aghast at my son (raised in the French culture), when he responded to his question 'Do you wan sauce on it?' with "Yes please, Mustard". Which was after my son had looked at me saying, "I can't understand what he's saying," when the man had asked him after he'd ordered a chicken burger, 'Wud ya like it S'thrn fried or Batterer'd? I said I'm not going to explain what battered is, just take Southern Fried. Who'd have thought a chip shop could provide such an entertaining cross-cultural experience.

In Majella's shop too, no one ever asks for mustard. Some of them ask for things that go beyond the boundaries of pleasantries, the banter like an old record on repeat. Majella is clearly intelligent but hasn't been in an environment that has encouraged that, instead she has found a role that suits her character (in a town with the highest unemployment rate in the country) and despite everything, it is clear she is unlikely to become trapped by the same vices that capture most who've given up on their dreams.

The author Michelle Gallen - who grew up in the most bombed small town in Europe post-WWII and went to school in an area with the highest unemployment rate in the industrially developed world - when interviewed, said of her motivation:
"I wrote Big Girl Small Town to shine a spotlight on the consequences of the British-Irish border on a family in a deeply divided community over decades of peace and ruthless violence. It tells the story from the dark heart of the community, revealing the human growth and resilience of a proudly ungovernable community on the very edge of Britain."

She also admits that Majella might be happier if she'd watched less Dallas and read more books, but she was aware of the lessons of that Machiavellian J.R. Ewing even if she'd never used them and while most probably only saw what she was on the outside, beneath it all she was totally in charge of herself and about to become even more empowered than she had ever been.

Asked how she thought Majella would have coped with corona virus, she said:
“I think that while Majella would welcome the social distancing aspect of managing Covid-19, she would – like most people – be intensely worried for the virus's effect on those who are vulnerable: the sick, the infirm and the elderly."

And on what she might comfort in reading:
"She would find a kindred soul in the narrator of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. She'd have a real laugh reading Lisa McInerney's The Glorious Heresies. And I can see her finding comfort in the lovely Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession.” Michelle Gallen
Profile Image for Sonny Side Books.
83 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2019
I tried, I really did, but I found very little about this book enjoyable. Such great praise for this book, but I just didn't feel the same about it.

At first, the language used was tricky but I still understood it. I love shows like Derry Girls so for me I was super excited to read this but felt the more I read, the more I became disheartened and uninterested.

Majella as a character didn't endear herself to me at all. I liked how the portrayal of her grief came across in the book, as in real life its there ever present at times, in the worst and most inconvenient of times, but that was the only point I found commendable.

The repetition, again, I understand that this is real life, just was not enjoyable to read about and felt so much of it was already drilled home that it felt like overkill at times. I felt like I missed an entire hook to the story and prayed that something would happen.

There was one scene in the book (the kittens) I found horrendous. The less I say about that the better really (I am a cat lover!)

Thank you to NetGalley and John Murray Press for an advanced copy of this book, Sadly its not one I would be likely to recommend.
Profile Image for Avani ✨.
1,522 reviews299 followers
December 30, 2021
Didn't like the audiobook, it sucks.
The writing style is annoying to me.
The perspective of the narrator aka our main character is super frustrating.
Profile Image for Aoife.
1,257 reviews551 followers
March 19, 2020
I received this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

Majella is a big girl, living in a small world, and for the moment, she's actually okay with it. At 27 years of age, Majella's world is fairly routine - she works the evening to early morning shift in the local chipper in Athybogey, and then goes home, eats her fish and chip supper before bed. Then in the morning, she looks after her mother, who is an alcoholic, before repeating the previous evening's routine. And once a weekend, she goes out for a few scoops in the local pub, and maybe she gets the ride.

This was a really charming book in all of its vulgarity and cussing that kind of wrapped me up in the smell of vinegary chips and the taste of sugary coke at the end of the day! Majella is a fascinating character to follow, and I loved her for the matter of fact way she viewed the world and how she dealt with everyone in her life - from her chipper colleague she gets the ride from now and again, to her mother who has always been a handful.

Majella appears to be on the autism spectrum, but I loved that her quirks and oddities didn't stop her doing anything she wanted to do. The only time she really hid her quirks were her tics around her mother because her mother was, well, a selfish git!

This book only follows a week of Majella's life, with each chapter spanning one day. It's only a few days since Majella buried her granny - who was attacked and ending up dying from her injuries. I feel like the reader saw huge character development in Majella from Monday to Sunday as progress was made in her granny's case, to just how Majella began making small changes to make her life a bit nicer - like buying herself a new duvet!

Nothing really 'happens' in this book but it has the charm that comes with a small Irish town, and the run of the mill characters you expect to see in such places. The way Majella thinks and communicates with people is fun to read, and downright funny in other parts.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,113 reviews1,337 followers
July 8, 2021
I think I would have enjoyed this one less if I hadn't read it as an audiobook narrated by Irish actress Nicola Coughlan (who I know as Claire from one of my favourite shows Derry Girls). It's a wonderful performance that really brought the setting and character to life.

It's a very voicey novel, told from the perspective of Majella, a neurodivergent woman in her late twenties living in a small Northern Irish town. Her usual routine of working at the fish and chip shop and taking care of her alcoholic mom is interrupted when her granny is killed. Interestingly, the death occurs before the narrative proper begins, so we only learn about it and the wake, etc. from Majella's memory.

Her death brings up longstanding wounds of her father's disappearance and the related Catholic/Protestant divide that still structures the town. A quiet, slice of life novel excellently done, but not a book for people who want lots of "stuff to happen."
Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
March 28, 2021
I tried the print edition of this, but felt it got bogged down with too many mundane details. The audiobook version is much better, because it gave a better feel for the voice and character. It’s a story about a young woman who is a bit of a misfit in her small town, but she really doesn’t care. A fun read. 3.5⭐️
Profile Image for Beige .
239 reviews80 followers
August 22, 2021
To me, this had a lot in common with Convenience Store Woman. Both books center on the character's daily routines and work lives. We see how both protagonists cope with being (undiagnosed) neurodivergent, trying to navigate social cues that don't always make sense. But their environments could not be any more different. While CSW works in a rigid and sterile Japanese retail store, Majella works in a run down chip shop in small Northern Ireland town. A town rife with poverty, alcoholism and an estimated 90% unemployment rate. A place where privacy isn't an option, for anyone.

I found both books highly immersive; with CSW I felt the satisfaction of a task done well, with BGST I felt the oil from the fast food fryers seeping into every one of my pores.

artist: brandon steen
Profile Image for Nursebookie.
1,984 reviews304 followers
December 7, 2020
Michelle Gallen's debut novel, BIG GIRL SMALL TOWN is a very unique read that will fully captivate the readers for many reasons, and one of which is the character of Majella O'Neill. The detail of the writing as told in the third person perspective is a completely addictive read that transported me right to the 'chipper', a fish-and-chips establishment called A SALT n BATTERED, in the fictional small town of Aghybogey in Northern Ireland circa mid 1990's.

Majella is our loveable heroine with a few quirks on her own - like her obsession with making lists, and her avoidance of being the talk of the town and center of gossips. You will quickly warm to her, and find yourself interested in the people of the town and to each their own personalities as you come to know them when they stop by the chipper. Much of its townsfolk are unemployed, frequent the pubs, and whose young people struggle as their parents and families are still smothered by the political and economic troubles. Majella is quite different from a lot of them and we see that even through her elaborate list as the chapters are sectioned in precise time and item from her list to keep her life and thoughts straight and away from town gossip. Majella, the protagonist, the Big Girl, is a heavy set young woman who lives with her alcoholic and very needy mother. The men in her life gone, her uncle dies a tragic death, and her beloved "da" have gone missing and is presumed connected to the Troubles.

I found that my reading experience was elevated by listening to the audio book, thank you to @libro.fm as narrated by Nicola Coughlan - the actress from the "Derry Girls". I found that her narration gave voice to Majella and the characters, which was absolutely fantastic.

The story is indeed clever and witty, laden with dark humor, and a certain strangeness that I find in the monotony of Majella's life to be a cozy feeling I really loved in this fabulous read.

Do not miss this one. A great debut and one worthy of literary accomplishments. I highly recommend this fantastic novel.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,154 reviews1,607 followers
October 11, 2020
Big Girl, Small Town laser-focuses on the stout and underachieving character Majella O’Neill—cruelly called Jelly – who lives in the small village of Aghybogey during the Irish Troubles.

Each chapter begins with the time of day and an item from a list of things she doesn’t like at the start at the novel (the most important of these items is “other people.”) The precision of the chapters suggests that in all likelihood, Majella is on the autistic spectrum. She lives a small and bleak life: no friends, no ambitions, wears the same clothes every day, works in a local chip shop called Salt and Battered and watches her favorite TV series, Dallas. Yet the narrow focus on Majella belies the important events going on around outside her.

Her mother is an alcoholic, her octogenarian Gran has been murdered, and the Irish Troubles pervades everyone’s life. People are segregated by religion and violence is never far in the background.

The author gets many things right: the Irish patois, which takes some getting used to but adds a great degree of authenticity…the ambiance of Aghybogey….and most of all, the internal and external nuances of a character. It’s hard for a reader not to feel in the skin of the character; in fact, the novel works best as a character study.

The promised humor is outweighed by a sense of bleakness and poignancy. The book is best recommended for readers who have patience for a book that meanders slowly as it focuses on outward routines and inward churning. I didn’t love it, but I admired the author’s intent and execution.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,669 reviews1,607 followers
February 16, 2020
Set in Ireland. In this book we follow Majella just after the murder of her gran. Majella works in the local chip shop. We follow Majella's daily grind and see the world through her eyes. Majella has no real friends, even though she knows lots of people. She is also on the autistic spectrum. Her father is missing and her mother is an alcoholic.

The story is told from Majella's point of view. It's told over one week in November. She's quite a funny and interesting character. Majella is naive. We learn a little of what it was like to live in a small town near the orders to Southern Ireland during the troubles. Theres ot a lot goes on in this story but there is something there that keeps you reading.

I would like to thank Netgalley, John Murray Press and the author Michelle Gallon for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,669 reviews1,607 followers
February 16, 2020
Set in Ireland. In this ook we follow Majella just after 5he murder of her gran. Majella works in the ,local chip shop. We follow Marjella's daily grind and aee the world through her eyes. Majella has no real friends efe though she knows lots of people. She is also on the autistic spectrum. Her father is missing and her mother is an alcoholic.

This story is told from Majella's point of view. Its told over one week in November. She's quite a funny and interesting character. Majella is naive. We learn a ,little a out what it's like to live in a small town near the orders to Southern Ireland during the troubles. Theres ot a ,ot goes on in the story but there is something there that keeps you reading.

I would like to thank NetGalley, John Murray Press and the author Michelle Gallon for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Tahera.
546 reviews222 followers
February 10, 2021
The narrator for this audiobook Nicola Coughlan was AMAZING! Listening to her read this book made me live the one week the story covers alongside Majella and a whole bunch of other characters that make up the population of the North Irish town of Aghybogey. There were so many characters (big and small, major and minor) and Nicola did a fantastic job giving each of them a distinct voice through her narration. Superb!!

My thanks to NetGalley, the publisher Workman Audio and the author for the audio ARC of the book. I can't comment on the written version of the book since I haven't read it but I will surely recommend this audiobook!

The audiobook was released on 1st December 2020.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,383 reviews8 followers
July 30, 2020
I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.

One of the worst books I have read this year.
I just did not find the humour funny and the story was slow.
The characters lacked depth and it was really depressing.
Definitely not for me.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,651 reviews614 followers
December 7, 2020
The cover of 'Big Girl, Small Town' describes it as 'Milkman meets Derry Girls'. That essentially convinced me to read it, as I love Derry Girls and was hoping for similarly dark and chaotic humour. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the other half of the comparison, as I haven't read Milkman. 'Big Girl, Small Town' follows Majella, an autistic woman who works at a chip shop and lives with her alcoholic mother. Her father disappeared during the Troubles and her grandmother has just died as the narrative begins. I thought that perhaps the mysteries of both deaths would drive the plot, but the focus is in fact on Majella's daily routine. Her inner life and experience is evoked with vividness and sensitivity. The repeated scenes in the chip shop have a bit of comedy about them, while Majella's home life is consistently tragic. Her relationship with her mother and the flashbacks to her childhood are grimly sad. The poverty in her local area is also clearly shown. Although the novel takes place after the Good Friday Agreement, the legacy of the Troubles is evident.

The chapters are loosely structured around things that Majella likes and dislikes. I liked the attention to details of sensation, which made her perspective immersive. The dialogue was also a strength. Nonetheless, I wasn't as gripped as I'd expected. It seemed to me as though the narrative didn't embrace humour, plot, or social commentary quite enough. Although I found Majella an appealing and sympathetic character, the decision she makes on the last page seemed very sudden. I would perhaps have preferred the first half of the novel to cover her daily routine, then the second half to explore the implications of that decision. As it was, the novel relied upon the distinctiveness of her narrative perspective for interest. I quickly became accustomed to this, so wanted a bit more to chew on. By contrast, Convenience Store Woman, another novel about a seemingly austistic woman working a retail job, disrupts the protagonist's routine with plot developments early on. I found that more involving, although both novels have thoughtfully written main characters.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,688 reviews279 followers
July 22, 2020
enjoyed this novel based in northern Ireland just after the troubles and in parts was funny with the dark humour involved.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,647 reviews26 followers
September 18, 2021
I read the entire book and hadn't figured out the protagonist, Majella, a 27-year-old woman living in a border town in Northern Ireland, was on the autism spectrum. Thank goodness for my very intelligent book club which reads contemporary Irish fiction every month. One edition of the book has a blurb from Parade Magazine, an insert that comes with many American Sunday newspapers, that revealed Majella was on the spectrum. My edition did not have that reveling blurb. It is not a spoiler to reveal this as I got through the entire book without recognizing the signs. I am a retired special educator, so I think if I couldn't see it, perhaps many people would have the same experience.

The town Majella lives in is an example of border towns that withered and suffered economic decline due to the border. The novel is set several years after the Peace Treaty. Being a border town, there is a history of IRA activity, and Majella's missing father was involved in one way or the other in all of this.

This books was much hyped upon release. In this case, hype is the right word. My interpretation of this was that there was hope that readers might pick it up because they were fans of the Booker prize winner Milkman. It is a book that should be enjoyed on its own merits. Nothing much happens, but that is exactly what life in this small town on the border is like.
Profile Image for Queralt✨.
336 reviews55 followers
April 20, 2022
I think this book got me out of my reading slump. I can't really tell why liked it as Majella, the main character, got annoyed at everything and liked to think a lot about masturbating, but it was still fun.

I do think this would have been a 4 stars if t had less explicit stuff. I noticed most literary fiction and slice-of-life stuff are just 20% explicit sex stuff that is waaay too described, do people enjoy this? When is it going to stop being a thing?
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