Michelle Gallen's Big Girl, Small Town is an absolute hoot.
A debut novel, Big Girl, Small Town was shortlisted for this year's Costa Prize for First Novel. To qualify, authors must be under thirty-five and published in the U.K.
The small town is Aghybogey, in Northern Ireland; a place where "things only got worse after peace broke out." (pp.7-8)..."a town in which there was nowhere to hide, so people hid stuff in plain sight." (p.14). It doesn't exist (I looked it up).
Jella is as the title suggests; a big girl.
She prefers watching Dallas and making lists than interacting with people. Each chapter begins with her curious likes and hates.
Majella has consciously become large, to avoid the attentions of men. Unfortunately, now she attracts the attentions of men who are obsessed with big women.
Jella lives in Northern Ireland with her alcoholic mum, and works the local chippie most nights of the week. Her father has disappeared, which might have had something to do with the IRA.
When her grannie is murdered, leaving behind a desirable bit of land (and a manky caravan), irrevocable changes are set in motion.
Gallen's observations of Irish life and the characters who come and go through the chippie are hilarious. Majella has some outrageous adventures of her own. And a few shags.
The language in this book had me in fits. I had to look up the Gaelic slang often. For example, the Irish appear to have more words for 'pissed' than any other language (p.180):
"Majella could see two of the younger cuddies eyeing up Johann-Paul. They were bollixed drunk and egging each other on.
- Hi Yawn-Paul. She fancies you, you know
-Shuddup Sinéad! Don't mind her, Yawn-Paul, she's blootered.
-Blootered! Y'know, like plastered?
Marty stepped in. -Means drunk. Like this lot. Lamped. Mowldy. Ossified.
-All these words for drunk?
-Who are you calling pished?
Marty turned to face Seamus Dunne. -Aw now. Ah wouldn't say you're pished. Or lashed. You're not even stoven. But you'd be more than half-tore.
...Sure that's hardly the half a them. Ye can be langered too. Or locked. Then there's polluted.
Sabrina Carr joined in at the counter.-Well I'm scuttered.
-At least you're not shit-faced or stocious.
The whole place was listening now. Ciara Maguire piped up. -Horse drunk.
Her friend piped up. -Piss drunk. Franci Boyle raised his head up from what had looked like a deep sleep. -Full drunk.
Marty took a look at him and nudged Johann-Pol. -Blind drunk. Or pure twisted.
-Well last week I was put sideways. Ah was full as a sheugh.
-Full as a bingo bus.
-Full as a Catholic school.
This book could do with a glossary, but its a total craic (crack/fun). Hilariously, it looks like Gallen has responded by creating one!
Who killed Grannie? Who will inherit the land? Will the characters ever be the same? And where did Majella's Da disappear to?
Find out more
This book made a shortlist of four; the winner was Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud, while the prize for Best Novel went to The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.
The overall winner of all categories in the Costa Book Awards will be announced on 26 January.