by Michelle Gallen
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Pub Date 23 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 23 Jun 2022
John Murray Press, John Murray
'Vital, bang-on, and seriously funny' Roddy Doyle
Smart-mouthed and filthy-minded, Maeve Murray has always felt like an outsider in the shitty wee town in Northern Ireland that she calls home. She hopes her exam results will be her ticket to a new life in London; a life where no one knows her business, or cares about her dead sister. But first she's got to survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign as brutal as her relationship with her mam, iron 800 shirts a day to keep her summer job in the local factory, and dodge the attentions of Handy Andy Strawbridge, her dubious English boss.
Maeve and her two best friends try to squeeze as much fun as possible into their last summer at home. But as marching season raises tensions among the Catholic and Protestant workforce, Maeve realises something is going on behind the scenes at the factory, forcing her to make a choice that will impact her life - and the lives of others - for ever.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 27 members
I absolutely loved Michelle Gallen's first novel, Big Girl, Small Town. I didn't think this could be as good. But it was better! Teenage warrior queen Maeve Murray (the author does love her M-names)! is keen to have a taste of independence before the D-Day of her A-level results, and counting down the days before she leaves her beleaguered Northern Irish town for the grimy but gorgeous streets of London. But is she already looking in trouble?
It's the 90s - the time of Whigfield, Oasis, Marlboro Lights, 'Molly's Lips' and Schindler's List. Maeve and her best friends, sweet Caroline and posh Aoife get summer jobs in the shirt factory under Andy Strawbridge, the charming but shallow boss who gives Maeve tremors in her 'lady garden.' I laughed from start to finish but there was also the undertow of horror that comes with living in a war zone and still, as one of the characters says, still having to worry about the size of your bum. I have never read anything quite like this novel, and would also bet that it includes the word 'flaps' more often than any other literary fiction in 2022. Slainte!
Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen.
Set in the summer of 1994, in a small Northern Irish town, Factory Girls tells the story of Maeve. She and her two friends have found themselves a summer job in a local shirt factory - the plan, make as much money as they can whilst awaiting their A-level results, and then they’re away to England for a new life of adventure.
Their chance to make their escape is put into jeopardy as tensions between the Catholic and Protestant workforce escalated and marching season is underway.
The worker's communities may be divided but at work, they’re forced to collide. Tensions may rise but also great friendships are made.
This book is a real dose of ’90s nostalgia and offers a valuable insight into the Northern Ireland Peace Process, deftly exploring what it was like to live there at that time.
This is a story of class, social mobility, and just plain old trying to fit in. Behind the witty dialogue and moments of utter hilarity, there are deeper, darker undertones.
I have loved everything about this book, from the cover to the well-developed characters and setting. I felt like I was in the factory alongside Maeve, watching as the story panned out. I highly recommend it.
Factory Girls should be on the television, it would give the rather fabulous Derry Girls a run for their money. And now, on that note, I’m off to get my hands on Gallen’s first novel Big Girl, Small Town.
With thanks to NetGalley and John Murray Press for the advanced reader copy.
From the moment I finished reading "Big Girl, Small Town" I have been craving more from Michelle Gallen. To my utter delight, "Factory Girls" is as blindingly brilliant as I'd hoped it would be. It's a huge dose of 90s nostalgia and a valuable insight into the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Like Majella before her, Maeve is a marvellous character. Full of piss and vinegar, we join her as she awaits her exam results and takes a summer job in the shirt factory, whilst planning her escape to London to go to University.
I loved the banter between the workers, and the women's families. Their community is divided in many ways but at work, they've to put up and shut up. Tensions rise but friendships are made along the way. The book reminds me of Tony Roper's brilliant play "The Steamie". Gallen's aces up her sleeve are her ear for dialogue and her sharp observational humour. The patter is first class!
Aside from the many moments of hilarity, it's a story of social mobility, class barriers and trying to fit in. There's a lot going on beneath the surface and nobody does hilarious with deep, dark undertones better than Michelle Gallen. "Factory Girls" is highly entertaining, incredibly powerful and needs to be on the telly!
First off I just would like to thank NetGalley and John Murray Publishing for the ARC of Factory Girls exchange for a fair and honest review
This is the second offering from Michelle Gallen, I enjoyed Big Girl Small Town so was looking forward to see what her second offering had to offer.
I read a few reviews for Big Girl Small Town it was mentioned a few times that it was like Derry Girls in book form, and I while I found it funny in places and had some Derry Girls vibes I didn’t fully agree with that description but am going to use it to describe Factory Girls. It is Derry Girls meets Marian Keys crossed with Roddy Doyle.
The “craic” though the novel is on top form I found myself reading in a bad Irish accent and giggling away at the raw harsh but hilariously funny and real language.
Set during the Northern Irish troubles in the early 90’s in a mixed border town we are introduced to three girls the lead being the wickedly smart and funny Mauve starting a summer job in the local shirt factory while waiting on their exam results in the hope they get the grades the need to get to university out of the town and essentially change their lives. This may sound a simple story and while that is true this wee novel tells a much bigger story. As is in the case with Big Girl Small Town Irish wit and humour is used to explore the much dark picture of the troubles, class, religion, sexism and mental health.
Behind the cute book cover, the witty dialogue and the laugh out moments the wonderful, well developed real character of Mauve tells us what it was like to live in that dark world, the confusion, the shame and the effect it has on not just the here and now but future hopes and dreams too. Mauve is a fantastic character, she is funny, honest and is very relatable , we have all been 18 once just trying to fit in and find our place in the world. I found all the characters very well developed even the minor characters felt real. I greatly enjoyed the chapters which featured Mauve’s family the parts for me were pure Derry girls, I loved her mammy. I found the story of her sister truly touching.
I have read all of Sally Rooneys books and let me tell you this not one of her self indulgent woke poor me characters capture and engaged me like the characters in factory girls did, like Rooney books this story is very much character lead set among a simple back story but unlike Rooneys efforts the characters tell a deeper story and make a clear point in a way that’s not boring and actually goes somewhere. There is no big drama, build up of tension or even a big event in the story but they way this simple story is developed though the characters, the humour and the true insight to NI in the 90’s makes it a novel full of heart, laughter and brilliant observations into the world then and now.
Stand out parts for me are the “tampon” advert from the da’s comments to the stopping of the “flow”, the chemistry teacher’s quizzes and any part with Fidelma in it “ some wumin”
This book was the best book I’ve read this year and suspect it will be there in top spot come the end of year. I loved it from start to finish it’s laugh a minute, it’s cry a minute ,it’s just gorgeous!!!!! Five stars here no question Factory Girls is due for publication 23rd June 2022, preorder your copy now you won’t regret it unlike a morning after a night on vodka and orange….. if you know you know.
This my first read by Michelle Gallan and I had never heard of her as an author previously. Two things drew me to this book, one was the fact it was set in Ireland and I knew I would love the "craic" and secondly it came recommended by Roddy Doyle which is good enough for me.
And I was certainly not disappointed, some of the one liners in the book were laugh out loud funny but more than this the characters in the book were just so believable and real. By the end of the book you will be rooting for them all and praying they get where they want to go.
Thanks to Netgalley and John Murray Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review .
As she demonstrated in her impressive debut novel Big Girl, Small Town, Michelle Gallen can depict the problems and indignities of being a woman from a deprived background living in small provincial community with authenticity and humour. Even if you're not from this part of the world, a country that has stark divisions across religious and political lines, the experiences of feeling like an outsider and feeling held back from being yourself will still be recognisable to anyone.
The social and political context might also be recognisable however if you've seen Derry Girls. I might as well get the obvious comparison out of the way now (the title invites such comparisons), because despite the superficial similarities and the period of the Troubles covered, Michelle Gallen does move on and have other issues to deal with. If it helps however, you could see the teenage protagonist of Factory Girls as practically a sequel to the Derry Girls TV series. Maeve and her friends have just left school and are waiting on their A-level exam results so they can get out of the small Co. Tyrone town they've grown up in and move on to the next stage of their lives.
Before Maeve can leave the Troubles and the family troubles behind her - in a town which could well be the same Aghybogey where Majella of Big Girl, Small Town lives - and take up a course in journalism in London, she needs to find a bit of summer work for money. If that means flirting a little with the arrogant and sleazy boss of the clothing factory, the only place likely to take unqualified and inexperienced young girls into temporary employment in this town - and I'm sure you can guess why - Maeve is prepared to do what is necessary.
Taking a first step to independence, Maeve rents her own place with friend, keen to move out of the family home that has become uncomfortable since death of her sister Deirdre. Even at the age of 18, having lived in a place that has know sectarian violence for decades, Maeve knows the score when it comes to the differences between Catholics and Protestants, but working as a factory girl in a mixed environment is one of the few times when she has actually had to co-exist with someone from the other side of the community. In 1994, it's still a very divided community living in fear of killings and retaliation from paramilitaries. Work experience is going to involve more than just dealing with a sleazy if undeniably attractive boss.
To her credit and despite the humour, Gallen doesn't dress this up at all, but captures the uncomfortable reality that many of us lived with throughout the troubles. There's no disguising the bitterness and hatred that exists, the open prejudice (often against the English), even though all does in retrospect seem almost surreal (like boycotting butter from "Protestant cows"). The author doesn't shy away however from the grimness of living in near poverty in a household that has no time for social niceties. There's not much kept mysterious either about the relationship between men and women either, particularly from the viewpoint of an 18 year old Catholic girl.
The factory evidently is Maeve's coming of age, her education and awareness of what it will mean to go out and face a new reality about the way the world works. It's also evidently, much like Olivia Fitzsimons, covering the same period recently in The Quiet Whispers Never Stop, an awakening for Northern Ireland facing up to the future of Peace Process. The Greysteel and Loughlinisland atrocities are mentioned, and we are aware from the nature of the continuing violence that the IRA are preparing to announce ceasefire that will pave the way for the 1998 peace agreement, but it's still a very dangerous time for anyone who could be considered a "legitimate target". We are in a place where we need to move forward but are not yet ready to leave the past behind.
For anyone who has lived through these years and heard it all before, Factory Girls might be less compelling, but it does capture the reality and the attitudes - and the humour in the face of it - very well. I'll leave it to others to verify the accuracy of the graphic and frank accounts of what goes on in the head of an 18 year old girl at this time (and lower down). As you might expect however there is a deeper undercurrent that connects the personal and political troubles.
Loss looms over Factory Girls. There's the loss of her sister Deirdre, which certainly affects Maeve and her family, and evidently there is the loss of friends and townspeople to the mindless sectarian violence. Everyone has experienced loss and the death of loved ones, but Gallen also indicates that there is an even greater sense of loss experienced by many; the loss of a normal childhood, the loss of innocence and the loss of opportunities for those unable to make their escape. As such Maeve is part of a new generation, one that does indeed aim to move forward, leave behind and - significantly - become a journalist and a voice that tells it like it is. Michelle Gallen tells it like it is.
For Maeve and her friends daily life holds not just the common feelings experienced by all teens: anxiety waiting for exam results, the mad swings of love and lust, boredom with where they grew up, and worry about earning enough money to save for what comes next. Their days are also full of frustration and fear as the threat of violence flares up around them on a daily basis as there’s continual tension between the Catholics and Protestants and resignation about the troubled political situation in the country. Mixed into this mix there is heaps of black humour. It’s hilarious from the beginning and the humour doesn’t let up. This is a story where well-drawn characters are living in dangerous and strained circumstances over the border from the Free State, under British control in Northern Ireland, but it’s not nearly as grim as it sounds.
‘But it’s all these good intentions that’s killing me,’ Maeve said. ‘Everyone’s always asking us to paint pictures or write poems. Ye’ve artists sculpting doves. Teachers sucking the fucken lifeblood outtay us by asking us tae sing “Imagine” – like, no harm, but is that not showing a total lack of imagination?’ ‘Aye,’ Fidelma said. ‘Nobody’s tackling the hard stuff.’
Maeve and her friends then outline how they believe life could be different without segregation, starting the process of integration from the earliest years. The insider knowledge and lived experience of the author shines out, this is not clearly not researched, but drawn from the author’s own life growing up in County Tyrone.
It has to be said (and I know I won’t be the first to say this and certainly not the last) but it is a good companion if you’re watching Derry Girls. Some of what is sketched out in Derry Girls will make much more sense after reading Factory Girls.
Factory Girls is laugh out loud funny, irreverent and touching. I loved it. I know this because I read it slowly and properly, always a good sign as I did not want it to end.
How long until until there is a film or television series? I’m positive the rights will be snapped up. At the end I felt there was also a lot of scope for a follow up book about what Maeve (and friend) do next ….
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read such an excellent ARC.
Michelle Gallen's first novel 'Big Girl, Small Town' was one of my stand out reads of 2020 so I was delighted to read 'Factory Girls'. It's the 1990's and we meet Maeve Murray as she embarks on her plans for the long summer following her A levels, with a constant countdown to results day when she can put her escape plan into action. Escape from the small border town in Northen Ireland, the Troubles, sectarianism, her community and her family - Maeve can't wait to get to England to study Journalism at University. But before she an escape she needs to earn money, and gets a job at a local textiles factory. In an area with the highest unemployment rates in Europe at the time to get a job is an achievement in itself itself, but her best friends are also lucky enough to be hired and the summer begins. Growing up in a Catholic neighbourhood and attending Catholic school, this is the girls first time mixing with people from the 'other side' and their experiences reveal the unwritten rules, risks and trauma of everyday life growing up in the Troubles.
Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen
Maeve and her best friends Caroline and Aoife have finished their A levels and take jobs in the local shirt factory while waiting for the results which will enable them to leave their town for a new life at university. Set in the 1990s in Northern Ireland the shirt factory is one of the few places where Protestants and Catholics mix, but as summer goes on and marching season begins tensions rise, not least because of the boss, Andy Strawbridge.
Maeve is a fabulous character and the dialogue between her and the other characters is so brilliant. I read this book in one go, desperate for Maeve to have her happy ending/new beginning. Along the way we see life through her eyes and the dark side of family tragedy, grief, sectarianism, religion, sexism, violence and social class but always with banter and larger than life characters. A triumph - read it and you'll be cheering Warrior Maeve along too! Very VERY highly recommended.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book.
I read and loved Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen. I was buzzing when I seen I could request to read this. I’ve heard so much growing up about the shirt factories in Derry so knew this book had great potential. When you read the premise you’ll understand why I was so excited to receive this ARC.
Maeve Murray has always felt like an outsider in the shitty wee town in Northern Ireland that she calls home. She hopes her exam results will be her ticket to a new life in London; a life where no one knows her business, or cares about her dead sister. But first she's got to survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign as brutal as her relationship with her mam, iron 800 shirts a day to keep her summer job in the local factory, and dodge the attentions of Andy Strawbridge, her dubious English boss. Maeve and her two best friends try to squeeze as much fun as possible into their last summer at home. But as marching season raises tensions among the Catholic and Protestant workforce, Maeve realises something is going on behind the scenes at the factory, forcing her to make a choice that will impact her life - and the lives of others - for ever.
This was an absolute cracker of a read. It is full of that classic, unique northern humour that I love so much. As cliche as it may sound, this completely filled the Derry Girls void in my life. Gallen does such an amazing job at making you howl with laughter at one instance and make your heart drop the next. I was hooked. I thought Maeve was an incredible protagonist (despite her flaws) who I was rooting for from the beginning.
Factory Girls is razor sharp, underneath the humour. I loved how this book was structured with a countdown to results day. Gallen also dives deep into topics of class, sectarianism, the impact on mental health the Troubles has had and sexism in the workplace, among many others. The fact that these are all intertwined with a gripping plot and wit made this book unputdownable for me.
Honestly, I adored it. I could not recommend this one more. I can’t wait until it’s out and people are reading it. It’s definitely one you won’t want to miss.
Thank you so much to John Murrays and NetGalley for allowing me to read this ARC. Factory Girls is out June 23rd.
Michelle Gallen's sophomore novel has all the same traits that made Big Girl,. Small Town so brilliant - it's filthy, hilarious and surprisingly heartstring-tugging.
It's the summer of 1994, and Maeve Murray is counting down until her exam results come out. A good result will guarantee her an escape from her stifling town - she wants to go to London to study journalism. In order to save up for this, she's got a job in the local factory along with her two best friends.
Another 1990s Northern Irish gal novel, if you're a fan of Michelle from Derry Girls you will love Maeve. She's very much built in the same mould - headstrong, foul-mouthed, but with her heart in the right place. The secondary characters are also fantastic, all of them feel very real and well-developed. Big Girl, Small Town focussed hugely on one character, but Factory Girls is a little more of an ensemble piece and the results are so, enjoyable.
Not just a frothy teenage read, though, this book has more going on than its bright cover would have you believe - Gallen uses the factory setting to tackle secterianism, class and social mobility. It's really well done and never feels preachy.
A fantastic read that deserves all the accolades coming its way on pub date. With thanks to NetGalley and John Murray Press for the advanced reader copy.
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