Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen
For a life inside the Troubles in Northern Ireland, for an almost slice-of-life story of one girl just trying to live her life, for a lot of irish-y slang and words that you fall into the rhythm of
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.
I enjoyed reading this every time I picked it up, but now that I’ve finished it I’m left thinking, wait what was the plot of this? What was the resolution? WAS there one? It’s kind of a weird feeling, because it was kind of a weird ending. It felt very abrupt to me, like even a cop out epilogue that was like “five years later…” would have helped. Still, it was decent overall. There was a lot of historical context that I’ve never learned much about, so this was wildly educational for me in a way, too.
Since it’s set in Northern Ireland in 1994, there’s of course lots of Irish English words (and sometimes just Irish Irish words!) like craic and biccies and boke. Luckily I knew a few of these (craic is fun, a good time, interesting shit, and sounds like crack) and could figure others out through context (the biccies they have with tea are probably biscuits). Some took me a while though, like boke, which I didn’t figure out contextually until probably 70% of the way through after many examples. xD There were others I really didn’t get at all, but was able to just move on and get the gist of a sentence of thought from the rest of it.