Michelle Gallen's debut novel, Big Girl, Small Town, offers an irreverent look into daily life in small-town Ireland as it follows its winning protagonist through a series of setbacks and new beginnings. Majella O'Neill spends her days working at the local chip shop and her nights curled up in her duvet watching Dallas. She hates most things (and most people), but especially small talk and gossip, the two activities that keep Aghybogey, a Northern Ireland town still haunted by the violence of the Troubles, running. Despite caring for her alcoholic mother and missing her absent father, Majella has settled into accepting what her life is going to be. That is, until her beloved grandmother is murdered and leaves her with the family farm.
Bawdy and bold, Big Girl, Small Town may focus on everyday activities, but its narrative voice, captivating protagonist and textured setting will keep readers eager to know what its eccentric cast of characters will do next. The novel's humor is dry, sometimes grotesque, and yet never at its characters' expense. Instead, a surprising sensitivity emerges from even its most brutal of jabs, making readers root for Majella no matter how she acts. Majella's own unspoken desire for more gives the novel its poignancy, particularly as the small opportunities to break free from the confines of her town and familial obligations mount. The novel's no-nonsense approach to feelings and the absurdities of existence prevent the story from ever falling into sentimentality or despair. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor