Factory Girls

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By Michelle Gallen

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A funny, fierce, and unforgettable read about a young woman working a summer job in a shirt factory in Northern Ireland, while tensions rise both inside and outside the factory walls.

Winner of the Comedy Women in Print 2022-23 Published Novel Award


It’s the summer of 1994, and all smart-mouthed Maeve Murray wants are good final exam results so she can earn her ticket out of the wee Northern Irish town she has grown up in during the Troubles. She hopes she will soon be in London studying journalism—away from her crowded home, the silence and sadness surrounding her sister’s death, and most of all, away from the violence of her divided community.

As a first step, Maeve’s taken a job in a shirt factory working alongside Protestants with her best friends. But getting the right exam results is only part of Maeve’s problem—she’s got to survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign, iron 100 shirts an hour all day every day, and deal with the attentions of Handy Andy Strawbridge, her slick and untrustworthy English boss. Then, as the British loyalist marching season raises tensions among the Catholic and Protestant workforce, Maeve realizes something is going on behind the scenes at the factory. What seems to be a great opportunity to earn money turns out to be a crucible in which Maeve faces the test of a lifetime. Seeking justice for herself and her fellow workers may just be Maeve’s one-way ticket out of town.

Bitingly hilarious, clear-eyed, and steeped in the vernacular of its time and place, Factory Girls tackles questions of wealth and power, religion and nationalism, and how young women maintain hope for themselves and the future during divided, violent times.

Shortlisted for the 2023 Royal Society of Literature Encore Award (for second novels) and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize
 

Genre:

  • “[H]ilariously frank… This reads like a darker, often tougher version of Lisa McGee’s TV series Derry Girls, but with the same heart of gold.” 
    Ron Charles, Washington Post
  •  
    Factory Girls is full of the stuff that we're starting to expect of Michelle Gallen; wild, hilariously angry characters, and language that is vital, bang-on, and seriously funny."
    Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-winning author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and Love
  • “Michelle Gallen's Factory Girls pulses with dark, irreverent humor. Set in a place where dreams are laughable at best, dangerous at worst, it's a big F you to the only world these characters know. And yet, there's vulnerability here. Hope, too. I loved it."
    Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes
  • “This novel is a wonder; the heroine is cheeky, the humor dark, the dialect thick, the sorrow palpable.”
    Library Journal, starred review
  • “Gallen fluidly juxtaposes the pedestrian worries of small-town life against the Troubles of the mid-1990s… For fans of Derry Girls and the plucky heroines of Marian Keyes.”
    Booklist, starred review
  • "A blistering comedy."
    People Magazine
  • “Fans of Derry Girls will enjoy the snarky, smart-mouthed Maeve, as well as her friends Caroline and Aoife, as they wittily navigate the working world and life complications that come with entering adulthood.”
    Buzzfeed
  • “This novel is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking: not to be missed.”
    Shelf Awareness
  • “A sharp chronicle of the coming-of-age of three Catholic teenage girls during the waning days of the Troubles…. This is lovely.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “Gallen walks her narrative tightrope perfectly, balancing within Maeve's first-person account a story grounded in the horrific realities around her with the more ordinary — but still impactful, both to the protagonist and to readers — pains of growing up and of seeing one's girlhood fading rapidly away… Factory Girls is about the girls — Maeve and her friends, the women in the factory, Maeve's mother, even the memory of Maeve's sister Deirdre — and Gallen paints each of them with the subtle tenderness only a mouthy, whip-smart narrator could manage.”
    BookBrowse
  • “For fans of the recent Netflix hit Derry Girls comes the darkly humorous Factory Girls… A perfect blend of irreverence and heart.”
    Chicago Review of Books
  • “A wee novel with an enormous, furious heart, Factory Girls transported me into Maeve's world. You can almost taste the tension and claustrophobia as Gallen effortlessly captures the stories of young women teetering between stasis and escape. Honest, hilarious and such a recognisable portrait of 90s Northern Ireland, Factory Girls is an essential read."
    Jan Carson, author of The Raptures
  •  “Gallen manages to take a dark and violent period in history and turn it into one of the most moving and hilarious novels I have ever read. The rich cast of characters will break your heart and make you laugh out loud, sometimes within the same paragraph. I found it difficult to put this book down; while reading it the rest of the world fell away and I was transported to Northern Ireland via an unforgettable voice and a steadily boiling story of friendship, grief, and determination. Factory Girls is one of the best books ever written about The Troubles, and one of the best books I've read in a very long time."
     
    Silas House, author of Southernmost and Lark Ascending
  • “Brilliantly observed and full of heart, Factory Girls will definitely be up there on my list of best books for this year."
    Sheila O’Flanagan, bestselling author of?What Eden Did Next
  • Factory Girls tells its story in capital letters, Gallen’s comic, insightful novel of young women growing up in a northwest border town [is] a relentless, entertaining and sometimes uncomfortable read . . . With a clear eye for the compromises and hypocrisies this condition of living creates, Gallen has written an original and compelling book that describes a pre-ceasefire society that is both distant and familiar."
    Irish Times
  • “A cracking, confident follow-up: at times savagely funny, but with a loamy undertow of complex feeling . . . the highlights are . . . its deft characterization, observational humour and cracking dialogue . . . this entertaining, touching novel should also appeal to fans of contemporary authors such as Lisa McInerney, Louise Kennedy and Roddy Doyle."
    The Sunday Times (UK)
  • “Street-smart, ballsy and bold . . . The world of Factory Girls is filtered through her darkly witty mind, but it’s also punctuated by shocking and sudden violence . . . Gallen’s pen draws blood with the sharpness of her observations, rendering a fresh and acutely more complex portrait of Northern Ireland through Maeve’s eyes. Gallen asks, what can one young woman do with hope? Maeve Murray answers . . . Brilliantly, wickedly funny and soul-crushingly sad, Gallen has written the Vienetta of books this summer."
    Irish Independent
  • “This short, punchy novel... pairs well with the recently published Trespasses by Louise Kennedy.”
    Political Violence at a Glance, "Best of 2022: Fiction and Graphic Novel Edition"
  • “Michelle Gallen breathes new life into Troubles literature.”
    Ploughshares
  • Fall & Winter Preview: 30 Books to Have on Your Radar 
    We Are Bookish
  • “Remarkable… This novel is so funny, rife with amusing slang, dry Northern Irish wit and Maeve’s bluster that when the emotional themes Gallen has carefully constructed from the outset wallop the reader with their full revelation, it hits like a sucker punch.”
    America Magazine
  • “A great read if you’ve already finished Season 3 of Derry Girls.”
    Arlington Magazine
  • “Gallen, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, reconstructs this era vividly. Her characters speak in dialect, but, more importantly, their understanding of the world is shaped by their experience of the Troubles... Gallen’s mastery of her protagonist’s psychology renders this muddle comprehensible, sympathetic, and, above all, funny. Truly humorous novels are hard to come by, but Gallen’s writing is full of genuine bite… A sensationally entertaining novel that’s deeper than it first appears.”
    Kirkus, starred review

On Sale
Nov 29, 2022
Page Count
304 pages
Publisher
Algonquin Books
ISBN-13
9781643752457

Michelle Gallen

Michelle Gallen

About the Author

Michelle Gallen was born in County Tyrone in the mid 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between what she was told was the"‘Free" State and the "United" Kingdom. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and won several prestigious prizes as a young writer. Following a devastating brain injury in her midtwenties, she co-founded three award-winning companies and won international recognition for digital innovation. She now lives in Dublin with her husband and kids.

Learn more about this author