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Douglas Stuart (2) (1976–)

Author of Shuggie Bain

For other authors named Douglas Stuart, see the disambiguation page.

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Works by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain (2020) 2,409 copies
Young Mungo (2022) 727 copies

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Common Knowledge



2020 Booker Prize winner is effective in showing the circumstance of being a child identifiably "different" (gay) in an unaccepting environment, while also being carried along in the suffering of an alcoholic mother living in poverty. Shuggie has very little agency in the novel, being a child for the bulk of it, so it is rather focused on the tides that push him about and how they affect him, which perhaps is not my favorite kind of reading experience.

The novel's opening chapter is a bit of a head fake - Shuggie is 16 years old and living on his own, the rest of the book is going to be what led up to this, but it is effective in setting the sense of Shuggie as "not right" in the eyes of the community around him and in the voice of self-doubt in his own head. The strong writing however is not false, that will be carried though the novel as you would expect in a Booker winner. Take this scene of Shuggie out after work with some women from his workplace:
With every passing graze of her ringed knuckles, she clamped her fat tongue between her teeth, and kept her eyes burning into the side of his face. When Shuggie had finally flared with embarrrassment, she had tutted, and Jackie had pushed two pound notes across the table to a beaming, victorious Nora. It was a disappointment, sure, but as they drank deeper they decided it had not been a rejection exactly. Something about the boy was no right, and this was at least something they could pity.

This sense of him as "not right" has burrowed into his own mind as well, as one would expect from a life up to then of being seen as such:

In the mirror his wet hair was black as coal. As he brushed it down over his face he was surprised to find it nearly to his chin. He stared and tried to find something masculine to admire in himself: the black curls, the milky skin, the high bones in his cheeks. He caught the reflection of his own eyes in the mirror. It wasn't right. It wasn't how real boys were built to be. He scrubbed at himself again.

After this opening however the novel goes back in time to show Shuggie's childhood with a self-destructive alcoholic mother, an absent father, humiliation from his peers, frequent hunger, sketchy at best school attendance, etc., as he thinks perhaps he can love his mother out of her problem - naturally an entirely doomed effort which provides the novel with pathos upon pathos.

Besides all that, this book did expose me to a nice bit of Scots slang, to wit:

stoated = wandered around
boak = vomit
dout = short end of a cigarette
laldy = with lots of energy, gusto
sleekit = crafty, deceitful
braw = fine, pleasant
stour = swirling dust
messages = groceries
smirr = fine rain, drizzle
flitting = moving house, semi-secretly like
greeting = crying
… (more)
lelandleslie | 123 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
"What good was a soft boy in a hard world?" Highly recommended for all libraries.
librarianarpita | 123 other reviews | Feb 18, 2024 |
This isn't an easy read because of its content but it is so well written and descriptive I found it (strangely) an enjoyable experience. I felt privileged to be allowed to see into these lives. For me the brilliance of the writing is in the conversations between people. The two alcoholic women spending an afternoon with cans of Special Brew, the taunts and bullying of children, around a family table and the non-alcoholics failing to understand what addiction is. These and more were perfectly captured in this novel. In 1980s Glasgow, Shuggie is the youngest of a family of three. His mother is an alcoholic. They live with Shuggie's grandmother at first and then are moved to a edge-of-town housing scheme packed with cousins. Shuggie doesn't fit in and his loyalty to his proud mother is heartbreaking. I loved them both and wanted happy endings for them so much but this rollercoaster of a novel played with my emotions until the end.… (more)
CarolKub | 123 other reviews | Feb 8, 2024 |
This has been on my to-read list for a while, but the reason I picked it up now was realising I could use it to fulful the Booker or Pulitzer winner item in this year's Helmet reading challenge, as I happened to spot it on the prize winner shelf at the library—it got the Booker in 2020. I found the main emotions this book inspired in me were sadness and despair over the loss of inspired lives. Shuggie has a chance, but his mother who looms large enough over the book I thought calling it Agnes Bain would have been equally appropriate, or Shuggie's siblings didn't, unless they left it all behind.… (more)
mari_reads | 123 other reviews | Jan 27, 2024 |



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Associated Authors

Stuart Wilson Cover designer
Angus King Narrator
Jez Coulson Cover artist
Martyn Pickersgill Author photograph


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