My desire to know more about the modern history of Northern Ireland drew me to Michelle Gallen’s novel, Factory Girls. It’s the summer of 1994, Maeve Murray and her two best friends await their exam results and look forward to escaping their hometown for university. The three young women get hired for the summer at the local shirt factory to earn money and keep themselves occupied while they wait for their futures to begin.
Maeve, who was raised within the segregated Catholic side of town, learns to navigate the mixed community - Catholics and Protestants working side by side - of factory workers. She humorously refers to the classic self-help book How to Make Friends and Influence People as a guide to winning over her co-workers.
Gallen deftly depicts the coping methods and emotional contradictions of living in constant danger. When caring makes you vulnerable, the threat of conflict becomes part of daily life. Maeve is always weighing the risks - a second story pub is less likely to attract a random attack, and it’s safer to be surrounded by Protestants when the police show up.
As a fan of Derry Girls, I was already familiar with much of the slang and could easily hear the distinctive accents and cadence of dialogue in my head. Some readers may struggle with this immersion into such a strong dialect, but the language flows easier as you sink into the story.
My favorite moments were between Maeve and Fidelma, an intimidating bruiser who becomes an unlikely friend. Fidelma speaks her mind and few dare to cross her. As her school friends drift a bit, wrestling with their own futures, Fidelma, who studied at the school of hard knocks, provides counsel.
My only frustration with the book was factory manager Andy Strawbridge. He’s presented as a villain from the start, a cocky Englishman who preys on young factory employees. But his intentions with Maeve are murky. And her continued attraction to him was disappointing. His few and seemingly random attempts to act as mentor weren’t enough to convey emotional depth, if that was the intent. Perhaps he was meant to be an enigma, but I would have preferred more consistency of character.
I largely enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers who favor historical fiction and coming of age stories. The final scenes will make you smile and give you hope for Maeve’s future.
Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for the gift of this ARC.
Unfortunately this was a case of not the book's issue, but the reader's. Irish politics is not a subject I'm super familiar with so trying to grasp the power dynamics and political strife took me out of the story. I couldn't absorb the sentiment behind the character's feelings on politics since I wasn't certain I understood the situation itself. The Irish slang took a little while to get used to and felt like it made some of the more sentimental and deeper moments feel choppy and flippant. Great story idea, the execution of it just wan't my style.
Set in 1994, this coming of age novel takes place against a backdrop of the Troubles. Maeve begins work at a factory to get some cash so she can head to England to study journalism in the fall. Her friends Aiofe and Caroline are also at the factory, and there are plenty of distractions outside of work and dangers, too, to cause Maeve to wonder if she’ll ever get out of the Northern Island town they've grown up in.
That said, Maeve is a tough cookie, and she is determined to get to England. She's funny and driven, and her friends have somewhat different perspectives on life. Maeve is also still thinking about her sister, Deirdre, now dead, who could no longer cope with everything around her.
Maeve's work at the factory exposes her to even more viewpoints, as half of the factory's population is Protestant (Maeve has been raised Catholic). Maeve learns much, and sees this as a good step to her experiences in London.
I had, despite the wonderfully textured setting and characters, a somewhat tough time sustaining my interest in this book.
Thank you to Netgalley and to Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for my review.
Set in Northern Ireland in 1994, Maeve desperately wants to leave her small town and the Troubles behind. She spends the summer working in a shirt factory while waiting for her exam results. Maeve’s dream is to attend the University College of London to study journalism. The story is told with humour and written in the vernacular. Can the Catholics and the Protestants ever find peace? Will Maeve fulfill her dream? Great storytelling.
I picked up Factory Girls because it was likened to Derry Girls. While both are about Irish Catholic teenagers, the similarities stop there. Derry Girls is silly and funny, while Factory Girls feels more authentic and it is definitely more serious.
Maeve, Caroline and Aiofe spend their summer slaving in the local factory while waiting for the results of their university entrance exam results. During this summer of transition they become adults in the sense that their eyes are opened to the details of the violent conflict between Protestant and Catholic Ireland through direct interaction with "Prods". Their increasingly complicated friendship is also viewed through a microscope during this summer. I definitely felt the omnipresent threat of violence and the weight of living in the era of The Troubles. The differences between socio-economic classes is another explored theme that involves girls both past and present. Flashbacks are used to more deeply dive into the narrator’s (Maeve) character; this includes some insight into her family. The author brought out my empathy and sympathy for Maeve.
The girls are an interesting group of friends. I felt ensconced in all things Irish as the author use quite a bit of slang and local dialect; it gave the characters authenticity but made for slower reading by this Yankee. Factory Girls is a worthy read--especially if you're unfamiliar with that era in Irish-English history. Hopefully, it inspires some further reading and discovering for some readers.
I loved Gallen’s Big Girl, Small Town, so I was happy to receive an advanced review copy of Gallen’s second book. I highly recommend her for anyone who’s looking for something similar to Derry Girls. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, though I didn’t love it as much as Gallen’s first book. As a historical novel, I got a much better understanding of The Troubles from this book than I did from either Big Girl, Small Town or Derry Girls. This book is darker in tone from Big Girl, which was more about a day in the life of its main character, where this one focuses more on IRA violence and how it impacts the characters. And while I appreciated that, I didn’t love Maeve as much as I did Majella, nor did I find this book as funny or as touching.
Maeve is smart and itching to get out of her small town. Like her friends, she’s waiting on her exam results to find out if she can study in London. In the meantime, they’re working in the shirt factory, avoiding their creepy boss, and preparing for the next stage in their lives. While going to London is all Maeve has ever dreamed of, she’s also terrified to leave.
What I liked a lot in this book was the way Maeve goes from knowing no Protestants to working side by side with them and even considering some of them friends. I like the way she grows beyond her very small circle of friends and builds her independence. I particularly appreciated the way Gallen shows the hardships the people in this town lived with every day; bombings are a regular occurrence and everyone knows someone who was injured or killed. The hatred the Protestants and Catholics feel for each other felt very real in this book, even though it also seemed completely unreasonable.
I think the main reason I didn’t love this book as much as Big Girl is that Maeve could be a difficult character to like a lot of the time, and I didn’t feel I got to know her very well. Her decisions don’t feel well thought out and she comes off as callous to her best friends and her friend’s brother, who’s interested in her. I didn’t come away with a sense that Maeve is close to any of her friends or her family (and maybe that’s why she hates her small town so much). I could completely understand her discomfort with Aiofe’s wealth and status, yet was disappointed that when her friend needs her she isn’t really there for her.
The author spends a lot of time on the suicide of Maeve’s older sister, but besides showing us that, it isn’t that clear how Maeve has been impacted, nor does the author explore other things about Maeve, like why she wants to become a journalist. I liked that Maeve was tough and confident and I also appreciated her sexuality. Some of the scenes between her and the factory owner were the most interesting because Gallen creates a lot of emotional and sexual tension. Maeve’s no innocent; she knows Andy abuses the factory girls and she’s both drawn to him and afraid of him.
But with her friends she seemed oddly indifferent – she has no opinion about her roommate’s new boyfriend or how Aiofe will feel if she gets together with her brother, or even any consideration about whether they will stay friends after they go their separate ways.
I listened to Big Girl, Small Town on audiobook with Nicola Coughlin’s fantastic narration. It’s likely that I missed some of the tone of this book by reading it instead of listening to it, and that’s why it felt a little bit flat to me. I also loved that most of Big Girl was set in Majella’s job at the chip shop. In this book, the factory was certainly interesting, but lacked detail about the day to day work, other the payroll and occasional work events.
Thanks to NetGalley and publisher Algonquin Books for this advance review copy and the opportunity to participate in a review tour. This book was released on November 29, 2022.
Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen is a story of an 18-year-old girl, Maeve Murray who lives in a Northern Ireland town. She is waiting for her grades, GCSEs to arrive that will enable her to move to London to study journalism.
The story takes place in 1994 during the "troubles" of the time where the Catholics and the 'prods', Protestants, are at odds. There are bombings going on that the people of NI take as a given. It has been going on so long that it has become the norm. This conflict went on for 30 years so this time frame for the novel fits right in.
Maeve and her best friends, Caroline and Aoife get a job at a shirt factory and move in together in an apartment. Maeve wants to make enough money so she can go to London. This factory employees both the Catholics and Protestants which at times can be a challenge for both sides.
The boss, Andy Strawbridge is a good-looking guy, and he knows it and uses it to his advantage. To get the girls he wants and further his future prospects. He has his eyes on Maeve for sure. She is not sure if she wants the attention or not. After watching Andy, the girls determine that he is not on the up and up. His treatment of the women he employs is disrespectful to say the least.
This book reflects the troubles between the Irish, British, the Catholics and the Protestants and the IRA. There is mention of the conflicts between these factions, told straightforward but with a bit of humor. This summer has the girls partying a lot after work hours. There is sadness in the story also because Maeve's sister had committed suicide and Maeve is trying to understand the reasons which can make her bitter at times.
I found that I liked Maeve, even though she was pretty brash, and her colorful language added to the humor in the story even though the 'troubles' was anything but humorous. This was an extremely dangerous time for the people of Northern Ireland.
The author's writing definitely reflected this conflict and how the people lived during this time. Written with knowledge and humor made the story flow, otherwise I think it would have been difficult to read. I love reading books by Irish authors and this one is one of the best I have read in a while. I give it 5 stars!
I loved this book! It’s a bit like Derry Girls, but much darker. Very convincing. I loved all the slang. Satisfying but sad ending. I see this book becoming popular in book club circuits.
Set in 1990s Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Factory Girls follows Maeve as she handles her changing friendships and the heightening tensions between Catholics and Protestants in her hometown while she works a summer factory job before heading off to college. This is essentially a coming of age story with issues of culture, class, and grief at its center. Though it took me around 100 pages to become fully immersed in the story - likely a product of the Irish dialects, the somewhat unfamiliar history/cultures, and just generally a slow start - I flew through the last two thirds of the book and came to really enjoy Maeve as a character. I definitely want to read more about the Troubles, because while this book utilized that history as its primary background I did feel somewhat lost at times as a millennial American who doesn’t know much about Irish history. I don’t say that as a criticism of the book, but as a “look what this book has me curious about now” kind of compliment.
I loved this book. I learned new things about the situation between Catholics and Protestants. I took me back to the 90’s was so much fun. I did struggle with the Irish dialect but it was ok
I honestly just love Michelle’s writing, it will make you laugh and make you connect with the characters, I really loved Maeve and loved how although the book was funny it also dealt with important real life subject matter. A really enjoyable read featuring life as a factory worker in the 90s. Maeve saw the move as an escape but had no idea what awaited her.
Her books are not for me. I keep requesting them because they 100% sound like books I'd love but I cannot get into them. I don't like the writing style, the characters are always seedy and annoying and I never feel pulled into their stories.
Thank you to NetGalley, Algonquin Books, and Michelle Gallen for the advanced reader copy.
This week’s headline? In your head, in your head they are fighting
Why this book? Heard it’s similar to Derry Girls
Which book format? ARC
Primary reading environment? In the wee hours of the morning
Any preconceived notions? I’ll probably like it
Identify most with? Maeve or Caroline
Three little words? “escape the dole”
Goes well with? Biscuits and tea
Recommend this to? A couple of my friends
Other cultural accompaniments: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/review/2022/06/25/factory-girls-by-michelle-gallen-dark-truths-and-black-humour/
I leave you with this: “She loved being three storeys above the town with the sky stretching like a well-washed blue sheet all the way to the sea.”
Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Maeve Murray wants to go to London for university, but she needs to make money first. While waiting on her A levels, she works at a shirt factory with a couple friends and well, life happens.
If there’s anything I like more than anything in a book is a good coming-of-age story. They get me every time. I’d say this is more charming and small amused smiles than laughing out loud funny, but that’s not a bad thing in my book because it takes a lot for me to burst out laughing. That being said, Factory Girls is still widely entertaining and I definitely recommend it.
Factory Girls is available now.
Huge thanks to @algonquinbooks and @netgalley for the advanced reader copies of this amazing new book!
Quick and Dirty
-full of Irish culture/history
It’s the summer of 1994. Maeve and her best friends are determined to spend their last days in their bleak little Northern Irish town earning a little money and getting pished. Waiting on their GCSE scores is going to be brutal, but maybe a job at the local factory will help pass the time. Having grown up during The Troubles, Maeve and the girls are accustomed to living segregated existences. Taigs (Catholics) and Prods (Protestants) rarely comingle. So when they get jobs on the factory floor it’s a shock to see that Prods and Taigs are working alongside each other. Now Maeve and her friends must learn to put aside their differences to fit into the delicate factory ecosystem.
It didn’t take long for me to fall head over heels for Factory Girls. Brash, bold, and, more often than not, a little too brazen, Maeve is the epitome of Gen X angst. Her attitude towards life is refreshingly authentic. Though I know this book won’t be for everyone, those who enjoy stories of sociopolitical tension, classism, and the effects of poverty and violence will undoubtedly find much to love about Factory Girls. It’s full of heart and hope despite the bleak and bleary backdrop of Northern Ireland during a difficult period of modern history.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for including me in their blog tour for “Factory Girls” by Michelle Gallen! “Factory Girls” follows Maeve Murray during the summer of 1994 in Ireland. As she waits for her exam results, she and her friends take a job in a factory to make some extra money, but things are not as simple as they seem. With political tensions running high, Maeve realizes there might be more going on behind the scenes at the factory than they know.
This coming of age story was somewhat of a unique read for me. I don’t know a lot about the history of Ireland, especially not the 90’s. Maeve is a fiercely strong and independent person, so watching her journey is interesting, especially when the political turmoil is there, but so is her desire to get out of town and move on to better things.
In the end, I gave this book 3 stars. It was an interesting read on the teen angst side of historical fiction. If you love historical fiction and are up for something new, this is a great pick!
Factory Girls will transport you to a small town in Northern Ireland in 1994. This is a coming-of-age book about Maeve who takes a job working in a shirt factory the summer before she goes to university while waiting on her A level results.
Maeve is hoping that she'll be moving to London at the end of the summer and her and two friends all get jobs at the factory to save up money for university. She wants to get away from the sadness that's enveloped her family and the violence in the divided community. In the summer marching season, tensions rise at work and when Maeve realizes her English boss is doing something wrong, she needs to make a decision that could change her life...
I really enjoyed this book. As someone who has taken multiple classes on 20th Century Irish History and a History of Northern Ireland class and follows current happenings around the issues I liked seeing a young woman's view of the world at 18 and what life was like growing up with the violence between Catholics & Protestants.
I would have loved to listen to this book as it was a book I felt like I almost had to read aloud to myself because it was written with a lot of Irish slang. But that's what I loved as it made me think of my trips to Northern Ireland. If you ever have the chance go to Belfast and along the coast in Northern Ireland. I'll share some photos in my story.
Thanks to @algonquinbooks for my copy of Factory Girls.
I was supposed to be a part of a book tour for this book a week ago tomorrow. But I could not get into the constant same everyday atmosphere and the speech enough to do it. So I'm finally putting my thoughts up on this book here and maybe later on my other review accounts.
It's been almost two weeks since this book came out and it had a lot that was going for it. Primarily the dialogue between the narrator Maeve and her two best friends, Caroline, and Aoife's lives. The summer of 1994 before they leave the Northern Ireland town they've been stuck in, for university. A lot happens the major thing being they discover the environments the adults stuck in their town have to endure. In this case, while working at a shirt factory that has both Protestants and Catholics who hate each other working there. Along with long and horrible conditions and lots of violence from the precipice of civil war. The girls are trying to save up for when they get their results but endure violence, tension, and revelations about the factory owner's sexism which is endured.
Maeve's perspective is the best one given her familiarity with the hard past she has in her family and childhood. The memories are tough but necessary to understand how she is tough about everything she perceives or at least tries to make herself seem. But at her core, she is very protective of her friends that she makes and because she knows the danger of making a careless mistake in a town that's occupied with soldiers. Not to mention organizations that take people out who make the wrong choice or are in the place. Her dry humor and generally funnier moments with the rest of the characters in this book are so necessary. Because it shows life even under harsh circumstances has good times.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for allowing me to read this ebook ahead of the release date.
I was initially drawn to request this ARC because it was likened to Derry Girls which is a show I adore. I also am very interested in Northern Ireland and the Troubles. This book definitely did not disappoint with the Derry Girls vibes- using dark humor to show how young people growing up in the wake of the violence in Northern Ireland, Michelle Gallen weaved together such a fun story.
Following three friends- Maeve, Caroline, and Aoife- in their last summer before going off to college, this really shows the normal excitement/nervousness of this time in a young person’s life with the added layer of dealing with the Catholic/Protestant strife in town as the conflict slowly works towards peace in the 90s. The girls are funny, smart, and love each other fiercely even when dealing with feelings of jealousy towards one another. Taking a job at the local factory together, they really come to face the conflict head on as they begin to work alongside Protestants for the first time and realize how alike their situations are, particularly amongst the working class.
If you are in need of a coming of age story with a little bit of humor, I recommend this one. The unique setting and time period adds so much to the typical coming of age tale, and I couldn’t get enough of this story.
Amid the violent backdrop of 90’s Northern Ireland, Maeve and her two friends Caroline and Aoife get jobs in a shirt factory for the Summer to make money for university in the Fall. Maeve, in particular, is excited to get her exam results and, hopefully, move to London and start schooling in Journalism. She feels life should be bigger than what is offered in her wee hometown, and she hopes to distance herself from the death of her sister and the violence of the Catholic/Protestant clash. Rather than a boring job, though, the factory presents Maeve with challenges that will test her and her friends in real-life issues.
This book was a fun read. Maeve is bold and spunky. She brazenly smokes and drinks and chases after men in her hours off work (and on, sometimes). The language in the book is serious Irish brogue and, as such, kept me on my toes “translating”. I loved the historic backdrop of the novel, not having read anything set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles before. It was interesting reading of the effect of the clash on ordinary people. Recommended for readers who like historical fiction.
Thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with an e-ARC to review.
Factory Girls, by Michelle Gallen, takes ages to get moving — the beginning is bleak, swear-heavy poverty p0rn. This is the textbook answer in case someone ever asks you, what does gritty mean on a book blurb? Too many characters are introduced at once, which felt realistic but also limited getting to know the characters. It took ages for Maeve’s friends to separate into two different people, not just Friend and Posh Friend. Once it gets moving, the story is unfolds in a web of flashbacks, slow descriptions of daily life, and huge shocks.
In the beginning of Factory Girls, Maeve’s just finished school and is waiting for her exam results to come back and tell her whether she’s placed into university in the fall. Worrying about exam results and waiting to move on and start a new life is such a key part of coming-of-age stories. But the book’s tension isn’t from wondering if she’ll get out of town, it’s about who she’s going to become when she gets out. Is she going to hide her background or not? Is she going to succeed or is the gap too wide? This summer in the factory is meant to be just marking time and trying to save up some cash before her real life starts. There are some really engaging coming-of-age realizations here, both for Maeve and her friends.
Maeve convinces her two best friends to get factory jobs with her over the summer, and then convinces her friend Caroline to rent an apartment with her. The factory is mixed which means she and her Catholic friends have to interact with Protestants without anyone blowing up the other side. Aoife, the posh friend, agrees to work with them for the experience, but she doesn’t go in with them on the apartment, because her home life is already much nicer and because her parents have already taught her that rent is throwing money away. Meanwhile, there’s one telling line about how Maeve doesn’t have any useful career connections because no one in her family actually has a job.
There’s a small scene when Aoife and James, her brother, cook spaghetti and bolognese sauce, and although Maeve likes it, she also realizes that her usual spag bol packet made with vodka instead of red wine isn’t really how that’s supposed to taste. (It’s not a gritty novel if the characters aren’t constantly eating the most unappetizing foods, is it?) Spaghetti night is ruined for her, because now she knows the better kind exists.
The overall mood of this novel is just… dreary and depressing. Some of this is intentional, the descriptions of generational poverty and constant violence between Catholics and Protestants should be depressing. But for me, even when the plot turns very dramatic towards the end, the overall feeling is a downer. Even if some characters make it out, the Troubles are still overwhelming the town.
I thought it took ages for the main story to go anywhere, and I was also frustrated when some of the tantalizing hints about minor characters and subplots were never really explored. As a I read, I had a strange feeling that I was reading the unfinished notes to a truly moving novel, with a coming-of-age story, secrets in the factory and wider implications for the time of the Irish Troubles. But it wasn’t quite there.