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Shuggie Bain (2020)

by Douglas Stuart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8375919,343 (4.28)156
"Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher's war on heavy industry has put husbands and sons out of work, and the city's notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings. Shuggie's mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie's guiding light but a burden for his artistic brother and practical sister. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a "whoremaster" of a husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good-her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamourous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion's share of each week's benefits-all the family has to live on-on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. Agnes's older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to look after her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. He is meanwhile doing all he can to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that Shuggie is "no right," and now Agnes's addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her-even and especially her beloved Shuggie. A heartbreaking novel of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction"--… (more)
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    Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (Anonymous user)
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» See also 156 mentions

English (56)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart; Angus King, narrator
Shuggie Bain’s nature and personality always conspired against him to make him more vulnerable to his mother’s capricious behavior and the brutality of the streets. She was self-destructive and blamed everyone else for her own failures. When she made poor decisions, she turned to alcohol for relief. She often used her own body to bargain for alcohol for herself, and food for her children. Modesty was not her strong suit. This low-class behavior, at odds with her pretense to a higher class, with her mannerisms and mode of dress, was counterproductive, and it often led to a fury-laced tantrum characterized by abuse and cruelty as she became more and more desperate and beaten down by the very circumstances she had herself created. After abandoning her first husband, she chose a second, Shug Bain, who was sometimes violent. He became the father of her third child, Hugh Bain, known throughout the book as Shuggie. When Shug abandoned her because of her addiction, her life deteriorated further.
When chance brought her to someone who mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous, she attempted to reform herself, got a job and joined a group. At first, she remained aloof, but she soon embraced the AA principles. She was able to have a year of good health and happiness. She met Eugene who made her feel worthy again. Although she had a kind of rebirth with him, his ignorance about alcoholism as a disease and the backwardness and cruelty of his sister and neighbors, defeated her good intentions.
Shuggie’s half sister and brother, Catherine and Leek, both became frustrated and disgusted with Agnes’ behavior, and they both eventually abandoned her, leaving Shuggie alone and unprepared, as the sole support and protector for his mother. It was his responsibility to provide for them, and he often went hungry as she used the funds she received to buy alcohol instead of food. Although he tried to keep her safe, he often failed in that effort. He was simply too young, too naïve, and too tender a child to successfully traverse his own world, let alone hers. His sexuality was always in question and he was taunted by others, adults and contemporaries, because of his excessively polite behavior, manner of speech, gentleness and concern for the welfare of others. He sported airs the way his mother did. She had trained him well. He was often too innocent to understand the way others treated him, yet he only wanted to be normal. Still, he didn’t know how to be normal, or even what it really meant to be normal. He found it hard to navigate the crude world surrounding him.
The problems and effects of domestic abuse, poor education, ignorance, addiction, and mental illness, for the victim and the victims of the addicted, are truly front and center in the narrative of this memoir. Only someone who has experienced this kind of devastating life, with someone who has succumbed to the ravages of addiction, can fully illustrate its effects on them and others. Often, expected reactions are counter to common decency and/or of a compassionate response. The culture in which Shuggie was raised was sorely lacking in moral values as it was short on good examples of proper decorum and integrity. It was high on poor education which ultimately led to a hardscrabble lifestyle. Bullying and taunting seemed to be not only a part of life, but a welcome one.
Although this is a novel, it is based on the author’s very real experiences, with a parent suffering from addiction and eventually succumbing to it. He was raised in a community called Sighthill, a kind of subsidized housing, in Glasgow, which is where Shuggie also lived, in the book. He is creative and artistic like our main character. He was devoted to his mother, as was Shuggie, with the child ultimately often becoming the parent to the parent, reversing the natural state of affairs. He is five years old as is Shuggie in 1981, when the novel begins. He is abandoned by his father and orphaned at the same age of 16, when his mother dies. He writes this from his own experiences which is why the book feels so authentic. With all of the darkness in this novel, I was contrarily reminded of my own Scottish friends who always found sunlight on their darkest days. The audio narrator is right on point with each of the character’s emotions and mindset.
This is one of the most difficult stories I have read in a long time. However, in spite of every obstacle placed in front of Shuggie Bain, because of his differences from the mainstream young boys, and a mother who was emotionally and mentally challenged, he thrived, albeit somewhat damaged, as a result. When he met a young girl, Leanne, who was also different, his eyes opened, and he began to come out of the turtle-like shell he had built around himself. It enabled him to pull in and out of his troubling life. Loneliness and confusion coupled with hopelessness and helplessness is devastating . Although it is a disturbing novel, it provides a light at the end of the tunnel which is hopeful, so the reader is somewhat troubled, but not melancholy at the end. ( )
  thewanderingjew | May 31, 2021 |
Stopped at 40%...just too sad and not getting better.
  SignoraEdie | May 26, 2021 |
Depressing, unlikeable & irredeemable charters.
Unable to get past 30 pages or so.
  honyocker | May 24, 2021 |
The story focuses on a young boy named Shuggie, his parents and older siblings, but the relationship between Shuggie and his mother is the most prominent. The story is heart-breakingly sad and very difficult to read in parts, but Douglas Stuart is able to pull the reader into the story. It is an incredible book which will never leave me. ( )
  vahankinson | May 20, 2021 |
Set in Glasgow's impoverished poor neighborhoods, this is a sad story about a boy and his drunkard mother and how everybody tries but fails to escape their limitations. The characters are searingly well drawn and the arc of the protagonist is painful.
It is a dismal tale about damaged people that is beautifully, believably written. ( )
  brianstagner | May 13, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
Shuggie Bain is set in this world of men run aground after the closure of mines, women sunk under the weight of drink, families living week to week on public assistance and disability benefits. It speaks in a Scottish English whose rhythms, even whose vocabulary, can be alien for American readers: misty with smirr and dusty with stour, its bruisers glaikit in their foolishness, gallus in their pride.... At its center is Agnes Bain, an imperious former beauty in a now-ratty mink whose disintegration Stuart observes lovingly but unsparingly. Shuggie is her youngest, her ward, her protector, and her target. He bobs in her beery wake, no more able to save her than his baby doll, Daphne.... Stuart’s project as a writer is in part about clearing space for tenderness among men, space for love.
added by Lemeritus | editVulture, Matthew Schneier (Nov 10, 2020)
 
It is in many ways a harsh, bleak novel, for that decade was a harsh and bleak time in Glasgow, when the shipyards, engineering works and the coalfields on the city’s fringe were closing, and so many of the working-class were no longer working but living on benefits.... There is poverty, squalor and degradation here, much foul language and causal, sometimes brutal sex. What redeems the novel and makes it remarkable is that its central theme is love – a caring, responsible love.... The relationship between Agnes and Shuggie is beautifully, tenderly and understandingly done. Stuart doesn’t sentimentalise it and he hides nothing of the horrors of galloping alcoholism, but there is a gallantry about Agnes which commands respect and admiration, however reluctantly.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Scotsman, Allan Massie (Aug 21, 2020)
 
It is, then, a testament to Douglas Stuart’s talent that all this literary history—along with the tough portraits of Glaswegian working-class life from William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Agnes Owens—can be felt in Shuggie Bain without either overshadowing or unbalancing the novel ... Stuart’s [has a] Grassic Gibbon–like ability to combine love and horror, and to give equal weight to both. Not only is Shuggie Bain dedicated to his mother, but in the acknowledgments he writes that 'I owe everything to the memories of my mother and her struggle'; he’s clearly determined to give all the contradictory aspects of that struggle their full due ... Stuart’s capacity for allowing wild contradictions to convincingly coexist is also on display in the individual vignettes that comprise the novel, blending the tragic with the funny, the unsparing with the tender, the compassionate with the excruciating ... Otherwise, the author is too generous—and, it would seem, too fond of his mother—for the central focus to lie anywhere but in the fierce, warm-hearted portrait of Agnes in all her maddening glory. As a result, this overwhelmingly vivid novel is not just an accomplished debut. It also feels like a moving act of filial reverence.
 
... his novel is resolutely, wonderfully Scottish at heart ... such a delight. Rarely does a debut novel establish its world with such sure-footedness, and Stuart’s prose is lithe, lyrical and full of revelatory descriptive insights. This is a memorable book about family, violence and sexuality ... Agnes is drawn with extraordinary sympathy: she simply leaps from the page as she juggles motherhood, a violent and philandering husband and her own demons, drink foremost among them. She is troubled, lovable, vulnerable and resilient ... This is a deeply political novel, one about the impact of Thatcherism on Glaswegian society ... It is brilliant on the shame of poverty and the small, necessary dignities that keep people going. It is heartbreakingly good on childhood and Shuggie’s growing sense of his otherness, of not being the same as the other boys on the estate ... Douglas Stuart has written a first novel of rare and lasting beauty.
 
With his exquisitely detailed debut novel, Douglas Stuart has given Glasgow something of what James Joyce gave to Dublin. Every city needs a book like Shuggie Bain, one where the powers of description are so strong you can almost smell the chip-fat and pub-smoke steaming from its pages, and hear the particular, localized slang ringing in your ears.... Agnes...is the real heroine of this story, so evocative and striking that she may be one of those characters you never forget. Stuart writes about Shuggie, a lonely, loving boy struggling with his sexuality, with skill. But the depiction pales in comparison to the sheer, knock-out force of what he managed to create with Agnes ... Shuggie Bain is full of people doing and saying awful things to one another all the time, but nobody really seems truly awful. Maybe this is what makes the novel so powerful and sad—it turns over the ugly side of humanity to find the softness and the beauty underneath.
added by Lemeritus | editJacobin, Eliza Gearty (Mar 16, 2020)
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stuart, Douglasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coulson, JezCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pickersgill, MartynAuthor photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, StuartCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher's war on heavy industry has put husbands and sons out of work, and the city's notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings. Shuggie's mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie's guiding light but a burden for his artistic brother and practical sister. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a "whoremaster" of a husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good-her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamourous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion's share of each week's benefits-all the family has to live on-on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. Agnes's older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to look after her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. He is meanwhile doing all he can to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that Shuggie is "no right," and now Agnes's addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her-even and especially her beloved Shuggie. A heartbreaking novel of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction"--

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