Cover Image: Big Girl, Small Town

Big Girl, Small Town

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Member Reviews

This book is set in a fictional town in Northern Ireland 
The book is filled with humour throughout. It has run of the mill characters. 
It follows a week in the life of the main character. 
It’s an average book
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I have to admit, I struggled with this one a bit. I loved the premise, loved the main character, and, as a Northern Ireland native, I understood the vernacular, the banality of some of the deeply held, and extremely divisive, opinions in the province. But I also got the particular humour which I hope resonates with those not 'fortunate' enough to have grown up during 'The Troubles' - the Protestants 'sneaking' across to the Catholic chip shop because the chips are better is very funny while also being slightly tragic. Unfortunately, the strengths of the book were, at least for me, also its weakness, the repetitiveness and predictability of Majella's existence made it difficult for me to jump back in when I was forced to put the book down for a while. I will come back to BIG GIRL, SMALL TOWN but I think I will have to start at the beginning and read it 'in wan go...'
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Thank you to Netgalley and John Murray press for this e-copy. Unfortunately as much as I tried, I couldn't get into this book. It tried to be something it's not.
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This story centres around Majella, a woman in her late 20s who lives in a small Irish town. 

I quite liked Majella’s character, she isn’t interested in BS and small talk and seems content enough with her lot in life. 
She has a difficult relationship with her mum as her mum is an alcoholic and appears to have a pill addiction too. Majella tries her best to make sure her mum is fed and watered every day but ultimately is more focused on her own routine. 
Her dad is missing and presumed dead and her grandmother was recently attacked and died of her injuries. The two incidents may be connected but this subplot isn’t very developed at all. 

The town where Majella lives is a typical small town and everyone knows everyone and their business. Majella works in the fish and chip shop so is well known. Some characters seem to like her and others are quite cruel to her and call her ‘jelly belly’ as she’s rather overweight. 

It isn’t explicitly mentioned in the book but I think Majella is on the autistic spectrum. She struggles to read people’s expressions and understand emotions. She learns appropriate responses rather than intuitively knowing what to say and struggles with eye contact. 
I found it sad when she was grieving over the death of her grandmother but didn’t understand the emotion she was feeling. Her colleague asked her what was wrong but she couldn’t explain it so didn’t and just tried to cope with it alone. 

Instead of the traditional format of chapters, each heading is an item from Majella’s list of things she likes and dislikes along with the corresponding time. This shows how Majella likes to make very specific lists and is quite a precise person. 

Some of the story is written phonetically and I’m not sure this added much to the story for me. 
Some of the descriptions were a bit too much for me, not that I’m very squeamish, but I just found it unnecessary. 

The story is slow paced but I feel this reflects Majella and her character. Despite the recent trauma in her life she’s still sticking to her routine and plodding along. 
I liked a couple of the characters but that was it. Some parts of the plot I feel could have been developed more for some interest to draw you in to the story. 
It’s certainly not a gripping read or a page turner but is OK overall.
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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.
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This is one of those Marmite books which you either really love or you don't. It's more of a character study than an actual story and there are aspects which could have done with greater development, such as the grandmother's murder.

The dialect, while true to life, is grating and difficult to read, which makes an already slow book difficult to read. And while it's admirable that the main character is autistic (which is why I'm giving this three stars). it's rare to find an author who can write in an authentic autistic voice and this just didn't quite hit the mark for me. 

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC without obligation.
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This is a good read that focuses on the life of our overweight protagonist and her relationship with her mother, her grandmother’s murder and her working life at the local chippy. She is very down to earth with a grounded sense of humour. I didn’t find this a page-turner but I did enjoy the mellow pace of this book.
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Even after reading this book I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was an easy read and it didn't take long to finish.
It took a bit of time to get my head around the dialect and I had to re-read some passages.
It's quite coarse in language so don't read if easily offended.
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This book looked promising, I usually enjoy Irish novels but could not get involved in this one. It was quite a bleak story, slightly amusing but spoilt for me by the language. Actually didn't finish the book as needed something more fast paced and engrossing during shielding.
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Honestly I didn't really enjoy this book, or the writing style - hence my 2 star rating. I would liken this book to Sally Rooney's Normal People (with less sex) where literally nothing happens for the entirety of the book. It's just an unnecessary story of a woman who works in a chip shop. I didn't need to know this story, and I wouldn't want to go back to it. I couldn't relate or even empathise with the main character Majella, who quite frankly just annoyed me for the entire book with her bad attitude and wasn't even remotely likeable - alongside the other characters, done of which had any redeeming qualities.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I wish to thank Michelle Gallen, John Murray Press and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Big Girl, Small Town in exchange for an honest review.

Michelle Gallen has penned a highly entertaining frequently hilarious debut. This is Majella’s story, she is a twenty seven year old, neurodiverse person living with and caring for her alcoholic Ma in a small town in Northern Ireland close to the border in post Troubles times. The town of Athybogey is poverty stricken with limited employment; it is segregated by religion and besieged with violence past and present. People are lifted, people disappear. 

Majella is intelligent, like her Da who is missing, the education system has failed her; she works in the towns chip shop where she interacts with the people of her community. Majella’s life is thrown into turmoil following the murder of her Gran. Majella has a very long list of stuff she doesn’t like and a short list of things she does; the chapters are titled by subcategories in the lists.

This is unique writing; the use of grammar and sentence structure is wonderful as is the use of capitals. It took me a chapter or two to adjust to the Irish vernacular, the phonetic script, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The characters are beautifully drawn; Majella is fantastic as is her gossipy work mate Marty. Michelle Gallen is on my list of favourite Irish authors; I’m really looking forward to Factory Girls. This book is a must read for lovers of exceptional literature.
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Thank you to netgalley for this advance review copy.  (For reference I read this during Covid lockdown) 

I have mixed opinions on this book. Aspects that worked for me: 1) liked the formatting of the book that it went through the days of the week. 2) That it focused on a women with autism. 3) That the characters stimming behaviour seemed realistic to me. (As a neurotypical person - with a fair amount of time spent around people with an autism diagnosis). 

Aspects that didn’t work for me: The way that the dialect was written, I found really confusing. That the main character relied on scripts and yet also understood idioms.
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*** ARC provided by Netgalley via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***

I liked this book and I really like Majella, in fact, this book is full of enjoyable characters and it’s them who make it so readable. We centre on a week in Marjella’s life and whilst the routines of real life carry on very much as before, this week is different. Marjella’s grandmother has been murdered and it seems time for Marjella to make sense of a few things and maybe a chance for an escape from the life she knows.

What I didn’t enjoy so much was the language used about Marjella’s size, though I think this was to reflect the culture in the 80’s in Northern Ireland. It still made me cringe a little as the descriptions were a bit grotesque at some points and I’d consider it fat-shaming in 2020. It’s a subtle novel but reviews saying there isn’t much in the way of a plot are missing what this is supposed to be. It’s a study of one person life, however dull, over a week. What makes it special is Marjella’s point of view and that’s what makes the story. It would be a hard-hearted person who doesn’t finish the book wishing Marjella well.
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Feels more like an extended short story or character study as the plot does meander, but the character is hugely compelling & feels very much a fresh voice. The repetitious scenes and lengthy descriptions set in the chip shop are actually really effective for giving a sense of a dreary, stunted and depressing life but Majella’s secret plans, sharp mind and the plot device of Granny’s will give her hope for a self defined future. Hard to say this was an enjoyable read but plenty to merit it.
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Big Girl, Small Town takes place during a week in the life of socially awkward but inwardly clear-eyed 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. Things like gossip, physical contact, noise, bright lights, scented stuff, sweating, jokes and make-up.

Sometimes Majella thought that she should condense her whole list of things she wasn't keen on into a single item:  - Other People.

The list of things she does see the point in is shorter and includes eating, Dallas (except for the 1985-86 season), her da, her granny, Smithwicks (the most consumed Irish ale in Ireland), painkillers, cleaning and sex.

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

A Unique Narrative Structure

Each chapter begins with a time of day and an item from the list, such as:

Monday
4.04 p.m.
Item 12.2 Conversation: Rhetorical questions

and the story is narrated through her regular, unchangeable routine and manifestations of these items as she encounters them, like here where she shares one of her pet dislikes, her mother's rhetorical questions.

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.

Personal Photo - Outside a pub & grocery store in Malin, Donegal

Majella works in a local fish and chip shop with her colleague Marty and each evening we meet local characters and encounter more items; 3.3 Noise: Shutters in work and 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 although it might seem uninteresting to follow along day after in this quotidian recital, even the chip counter conversations and order placements I enjoy, triggering as they do a recent (Oct 2019) humorous encounter of our own in a chipper (chip shop) in Northern Ireland.

Digression - A Personal Experience of Linguistic Nuance

I now understand better having finished the book, why the man at the chipper in Newcastle looked aghast at my son when in response to his question 'Do you wan sauce onit?' he replied 'Yes please, Moutarde, I mean Mustard'. This was after my son had looked at me and said, 'I can't understand what he's saying', when the man asked him following his request for a chicken burger, 'Wud ya likit S'thrn fried or Batter'd?'. I said 'I'm not going to explain what battered is, so just take Southern Fried'. Who'd have thought a takeaway shop could provide such an entertaining, cross-cultural experience.

In Majella's chipper, no one ever asks for mustard. Some of them ask for things that go beyond the everyday boundaries of pleasantries, the banter of some replays itself each visit, like an old record on repeat. Majella is clearly intelligent but hasn't been in an environment that has encouraged to pursue that elsewhere, so 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 that she is unlikely to become trapped by the same vices that capture most who've given up on their dreams.

It's entertaining, it's kind of sad, it's funny and also confrontational. You read it and feel like you're really in the skin of this character and though we might want more for her, it's clear she's ok and if watching Dallas reruns sounds a bit odd, it provides a bit of a cliffhanger of an ending as she reflects on the lessons of that Machiavellian character J.R. Ewing.  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.
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Majella is, you guessed it, a big girl in a small town. Set in Northern Ireland it is a community haunted by the troubles and divided by religious loyalties. Majella doesn't like small talk, bullshit and gossip. Her days are filled with routine, watching her favourite TV show Dallas and work. She works at the local chip shop, A Salt and Battered. Food worth fighting for! And she's never had a day off until her grans murder. Oh yeah, and her mum's an alcoholic and her dad went missing years ago. It doesn't sound like the greatest, cheeriest material, but give it a chance. I eventually came to like Majella and was rooting for her to have a better life.
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In 'Big Girl, Small Town' we spend a week with Majella in Aghybogey, a small Northern Irish border town where the Troubles may be officially over but deep divisions remain and people have long memories. Majella has grown up in the town, and knows far more than she wants to about the customers of the chip shop where she works six days a week, with Sunday evenings off "for her pints". Majella dislikes Other People but has acute insights into human behaviour from her observation of the people of Aghybogey from behind the chip shop counter. In turn, the customers know far more about Majella than she wants them to, and she certainly doesn't want to talk to them apart from 'what can ah get chew?'. 
There is lots of humour and pathos to be found in this read; some real read out loud funny scenes (thank you Derry Girls for helping to nail me the accent, in my head at least) and some heart aching scenes as the reader discovers more about what the Troubles meant for Majella and her family. I found this to be an immersive read, and really enjoyed the process of getting to know Majella. Initially seeing her as a victim of circumstance I gained confidence in her ability to be in charge of her own destiny and realised that like the people of Aghybogey I had underestimated her. Long after finishing this book I find myself thinking about Majella. It was no surprise to me that Big Girl, Small Town has been nominated for the Comedy Women in Print Prize.
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This was such a weird story but I actually really loved it. At times the story was gross & a bit too much information but I could relate to the main character Majella as she reminded me so much of a girl & use to work with in her personality. Majella has autism, her mum is an alcoholic & her dad took off. She works in a chippy 6 days a week & it goes through her every day life & how she copes to certain things. The most action happens in the chippy. At times it was hard to understand the language (it's set in Ireland & based on how they speak or use their language/slang) I know that may put a few people of it. I would have liked a better ending though & it did leave me with a lot of questions but if you want a change from your usual reads I would recommend this one. Loved how it was written by an irish writer not too far from me 😍
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Big Girl is Majella O’Neill, an underachieving young woman of stout proportions who is squandering her considerable academic potential by working six nights a week in her local chip shop. The small town is Aghybogey, during the Irish Troubles. 

So Majella keeps a list of all the things she doesn’t like, including sub-categories. She also keeps a much shorter list of things she does like, many of which are related to food. She uses these lists to narrate the story of a week following the murder of her grandmother. Given that her father has disappeared ten years ago, Uncle Bobby died while priming a bomb 16 years ago, and her mother is a non-functioning alcoholic, this presents Majella with an opportunity to become an adult and master of her own destiny. Or she could just keep working in the fish shop.

In truth, not much happens during the week; and what does happen is glossed over by Majella as she focuses her thoughts on the foibles of the chip shop regulars, hating alcohol (because of what it is doing to her mother and her home life) and looking for bedding. She drinks a bit, has sex a bit, and eats fish suppers. The charm is in her cynical, comical way of looking at the world, mixed with tragedy that she resolutely refuses to take her place in the real world, instead just hiding behind routines and tics.

Big Girl, Small Town feels like it is mostly back-story. The story of the dead grandmother, although acting as a McGuffin, never really takes off and I’m not sure there’s any real character development. This means that some of the repetitiveness of Majella’s life does seep into the text. There are only so many ways of ordering a fish supper or having banter with your work colleague as you put the chips in the fryer. After we see Majella stand up for herself in the pub, I really hoped for a more optimistic ended, but in truth I feel like that wouldn't have been Majella's way.
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What a nice find. This was the first book I've read from this author and I really enjoyed it. The story was different from anything I've read recently and really captured my attention. It was so well written and the characters were fantastic.
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