top of page

Big Girl Small Town

Michelle Gallon

Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn't punish men with baldness for wearing ladies' knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn't know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn't like gossip and she isn't interested in knowing her neighbours' business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers.

Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella's safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella's one chance at escape.

Praise For Big Girl, Small Town

This year’s publishing season is over. The important, noisy novels have all been released. The prizes have been awarded. The list of Best Books for 2020 has been posted. But hold the door! Make room for this late arrival from Dublin: an immensely lovable debut novel by Michelle Gallen called Big Girl, Small Town… [Majella’s] interior range is vast and illuminated by a prose style at once accessible and stippled with strangeness. There are so many scenes… that feel like literary alchemy. Again and again, with the raw elements of this cramped life, Gallen manages to evoke in us a wave of complex feelings. It’s the kind of magic you’ll feel lucky to find.”

The Washington Post 

“An inventively foulmouthed gem of a novel… with such deadpan wit that sentimentality doesn’t stand a chance… Majella, our clear-eyed protagonist, is far more than a gifted wisecracker and ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ a more shrewd depiction of provincial life than its flippant tone might suggest… a novel that is, above all, an intimate portrait of a peculiar—and peculiarly resilient—woman who is fated to notice everything and forget nothing. With her specifically heightened awareness, Majella is a welcome addition to the diverse family of protagonists that includes young Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,’ Hesketh Lock in Liz Jensen’s ‘The Uninvited’ and Keiko in Sayaka Murata’s ‘Convenience Store Woman,’ all of whom perceive reality through a similar lens… [I]n this oddly affecting novel of everyday defeats, [Majella’s] triumph is more thrilling than any army’s victory.”

The Wall Street Journal

‘A thrillingly fresh, provocative and touching voice’

Marian Keyes

‘Milkman meets Derry Girls. A cracking read’

Sinead Moriarty

‘Bawdy yet beautiful, full of everyday tragedy, absurdity and truth. I grew extraordinarily attached to Majella’

Sara Baume

‘What a voice: I felt as though I knew Majella intimately by the end . . . Big Girl, Small Town is a darkly hilarious novel about small-town life, which manages to be wildly entertaining despite being mostly set in a chip shop - a fine place in which to loiter with such a filthy, funny, clever companion’, -Guardian

“[A] sensational debut… Gallen’s effortless immersion into a gritty, endlessly bittersweet world packs a dizzying punch.”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

[A] darkly comic novel… Majella is a nuanced and complicated heroine… Infused with local diction, inflection, and slang, her voice envelops readers in the sounds of small-town Ireland. Fans of Sara Baume's novels and the Irish TV series Derry Girls will adore this complex, clever, and deeply moving debut novel.”

Booklist (Starred Review)

“An irreverent portrait of small-town Northern Ireland that is both bleakly and uproariously funny.”

Kirkus Reviews

“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… A pitch-perfect cynical dark comedy with an unexpected heart, Big Girl, Small Town will appeal to those looking for a grown-up Derry Girls with a literary edge.” 

Shelf Awareness

“A fiercely funny coming of age story… Majella O’Neill is a hilarious commentator on her mundane life, and the setting has drawn comparisons to Derry Girls, but this novel is a different beast: smarter, sadder, deeper, but even more charming and wildly funny.” “Amazon’s Best Books of December,” 

Amazon Book Review

“Majella is a compelling character caught in a fascinating slice of time, and her journey is exquisitely rendered. ..With echoes of Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine crossed with the 1990s-set British sitcom Derry Girls, this debut is recommended for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh, Emma Donoghue, and Sally Rooney.— Library Journal (starred review)

‘It's the humour, dry and gritty, that sets Big Girl, Small Town apart . . . to think that this is Michelle Gallen's debut is astonishing, as Majella's narration is bold and assured . . . evocative, caustic and compelling’

Sunday Business Post

‘Northern Ireland is currently producing more exceptional writers per square inch than possibly anywhere else . . . Michelle Gallen will most certainly earn her place in the honours list. Big Girl, Small Town is even funnier than Derry Girls, while being just as fraught as Anna Burns's Booker Prize winner’

Sunday Independent

‘A winning evocation of a small Irish community whose people burst from its pages. Engaging and satisfying’

Daily Mail


Irish Examiner

‘Captivating . . . a confident debut with a very memorable protagonist in Majella’

Irish Times

‘Darkly funny’

Mail on Sunday

Routine makes Majella's world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

bottom of page