Big Girl, Small Town
John Murray Press
Big Girl, Small Town is yet another debut by an Irish female novelist with the following distinction: its fearlessness. Michelle Gallen writes with a confidence and self-assurance that is remarkable for a first-time novelist. Set in a small town in the aftermath of the Troubles, Majella O’Neill navigates the monotony of her lukewarm life in all of its minutiae, before tragedy rouses her from the daze into which she has been lulled.
If you’re seeking a believable female narrator that veers from the generic, clumsy, mouse of a brunette that we’re usually given, Majella is your girl. Gallen paints her protagonist not only as autistic and overweight (and contented to be so), but as sex-positive, responsible, caring, integrated within her community, and possessing a full-bodied personality. Refreshingly, Gallen humanises the autistic experience by refraining from attributing every aspect of her protagonist’s personality to her neurodivergence, while effortlessly evoking a place and time through village gossip and dialect.
Unfortunately, Gallen’s plot is buried beneath the day-to-day monotony of Majella’s life to such an extent that it can be hard to follow. This is a pity because the plot is solid and feels so uniquely human, and thus warrants space to develop and unfold.
Big Girl, Small Town is an arrestingly frank depiction of small-town life as a non-neurotypical, brought to life by Gallen’s singular, self-assured prose.
Words: Courtney Byrne