*Received an advance reading copy of the book for the blog tour*
One of the last much-publicized debuts of 2020 features a main character trying to find comfort within her body and town. Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen dives into detail of what it’s like to be a young Irish woman living in a village still impacted by an old conflict.
Majella O’Neill has a long list of dislikes including makeup and fashion, which reads like the equivalent to a 2000s young adult novel, but as the reader gets introduced to her life at the turn of each page, the reason why she’s developed such dislikes comes in clearly. “Other people” is the last and loudest dislike:
It was people who talked shit. It was people who made up rules that said you were cool or not because of what you wore. It was people who judged one half of the human race for not wearing make-up, and the other half for wearing it.
On Majella’s list of likes is her father and grandmother. In the first 10 pages, the reader learns that Majella’s father has been missing for the last decade and had never recovered from his brother’s death and her grandmother is being featured on the news as a murder victim. This is just an average morning where Majella’s name is being yelled by a critical alcoholic mother. Majella soon goes to work at A Salt n Battered!, a restaurant serving fish and chips in her sleepy hometown of Aghybogey. Behind the counter, she meets a host of customers she can’t stand. The rest of the book breaks down her likes and dislikes through every detailed encounter.
The author is from Northern Ireland and grew up during the Troubles, a 30-year conflict ending in 1998 between Protestants, who wanted the province to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the Roman Catholics, who wanted the province to become part of the republic of Ireland. The impact of the Troubles is felt in the fictional Aghybogey and by Majella and her family.
Publisher Workman Publishing of Algonquin Books dubs the novel as Anna Burns’ Milkman meets Netflix series Derry Girls and believes it will appeal to fans of Sally Rooney and Ottessa Moshfegh.