Majella lives a routine-filled, rather bleak existence in a small town in Northern Ireland. She is twenty-seven years old and lives with her mother who is a depressed, and depressing alcoholic. Majella’s Mother is not a widow, but she doesn’t have a husband as Majella’s Dad disappeared many years ago when Majella was only eleven years old. Majella (Jelly) is a hefty young woman whose needs seem to be simple, to be left alone (with the odd shag as the only exception as she never said no to a shag), to have her belly full, her surroundings clean, her “Dallas” DVDs, and a comfy bed to kip in.The book is set about five years after the ‘Troubles‘ and the locals are still adjusting to having their roads and bridges open, and not having soldiers in the streets. The border town remains divided by religion and has a stone bridge which physically divides the Prod side (Protestant) from the Taig side (Catholic) . It is a town where everyone has a nickname, and most of them colourful. Blister McGovern, Jimmy Nine Pints, Cabbage McAteer, and Puke McCanny are just some examples.
Majella is a familiar face to most of these residents as she works in the ‘Chipper’ on the Catholic side of the bridge called “A Salt n Battered”.The town is filled with people just trying to eke out their existence in a town where there is 90% unemployment among the Catholic residents.
Majella’s world is upended when her Granny is murdered – beaten to death in her caravan. Her daily strife and struggles are interrupted by funerals and will readings. Majella hates change and is on the autism spectrum. She likes to rock and flick her fingers when she is upset.
One thing I know for sure… I won’t forget Majella O’Neill in a hurry. She is one of the most unique protagonists I’ve read in a while. The author makes sure that we are intimately acquainted with Majella’s every move, so she comes alive for the reader.
Her story was at time humourous, but at all times it was bleak. Her life in the small, economically depressed town of Aghybogey, in Northern Ireland would make most people despair.
The formatting was also unique to this novel as instead of chapter headings, we as readers follow Majella’s life via her lists of things she DOES and DOES NOT like. I’ll admit I did really struggle with some of the Irish slang and colloquialisms which caused me to reread many of the sentences until I got the gist of the meaning behind them.
Simultaneously depressing, uplifting, and darkly humourous, “Big Girl, Small Town” is a memorable debut novel. After reading the last page I realized…. I’ll miss Majella.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel at my request from Algonquin Books/Workman via Edelweiss.
ISBN: 9781643750897 – ASIN: B08519FM8M – 320 pages
Michelle Gallen was born in County Tyrone in the mid 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between what she was told was the”‘Free” State and the “United” Kingdom. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and won several prestigious prizes as a young writer. Following a devastating brain injury in her mid-twenties, she co-founded three award-winning companies and won international recognition for digital innovation. She now lives in Dublin with her husband and kids.
Follow Michelle Gallen on Twitter: @michellegallen