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Rebecca McCormick. Powered by Blogger.

Big Girl Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Thursday, February 6, 2020

I saw this book while browsing Netgalley and was intrigued by the premise. I was granted access, and then I saw Nicola Coughlan, who plays Clare in Derry Girls, say that she was narrating the audiobook. I immediately put the book to the top of my mental to read list, and picked this up in the middle of January. I was away for my birthday and find it easier to read on my tablet while away on holiday.

The book is set in the early noughties and is about a young woman called Majella, who lives in a small town on the Northern Irish border with her ma, Nuala. Majella is clearly autistic, although not, as it's mentioned, diagnosed as such. She works in the chip shop in the small town, six days a week, alongside Marty. She gets free food when the shop shuts, she goes home, eats her food, deals with her drunken mother, and goes to bed. She and Marty sometimes have sex. She has lists of bad things - small talk, the flickering light in the shop - and lists of good things. She treats herself to a new duvet.

Her da disappeared quite a few years ago when Majella was a child, after the death of her uncle Bobby. Bobby was an IRA member and her dad never recovered, so disappeared. Her grandma lives on a farm up by the border, but at the beginning of the book she's been murdered. The book is in no way linear so we don't get really the story of what happened to her grandma, but we do understand how Majella feels about it and about her grandma.

Her mum is clearly an alcoholic and there's lots of stuff around this, which may be triggering for some readers. Majella doesn't seem to cope very well. She very much seems autistic and flicks her fingers and rocks as coping mechanisms. There's some sexual content and some graphic violence too.

I wouldn't say Majella is an altogether likeable character, but I did like her. I felt like I understood her, and I felt like she was sympathetic in her cloistered, claustrophobic life. The non-linear structure means that there were loads of things that I wanted to know still at the end of the book, but I quite liked that.

The styling of the novel is a bit odd and took me a while to get into. There's no speech marks, which will get it compared to Normal People by Sally Rooney, I'm sure, but speech is set out enough for you to understand who is speaking. There's also names not capitalised, and other words capitalised for apparently no reason, but I liked this and thought it added to who Majella is as a person. The book will be compared to Milkman by Anna Burns, which I personally truggled to get into, but I guess the comparison is fair especially given the subject matter and setting.

I'm giving this book four out of five - I really enjoyed it and am glad I read it! I hope the author does some more fantastic things in the future.

Big Girl Small Town is published by John Murray Press, so many thanks to them for granting me access to this book and giving me the chance to review it. The book will be published on the 20th of February 2020. I was given an ecopy of this book for review, but was not otherwise compensated. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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