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Shuggie Bain (2020)

by Douglas Stuart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,517909,695 (4.25)258
"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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English (80)  Dutch (4)  Swedish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
If you don't know anything about the effects of alcoholism and the grip it can have on an individual, read this and you will become educated. If you're curious about Scotland, and what life might have been like for the lower-working class in the 80s, this story gives you much to ponder.

Where do I start? Maybe with the strength of the writing. As in, I had an actual physical reaction to some scenes. Stuart described Agnes's misery so well when she was suffering from too much drink, I sometimes felt queasy, the hallmark of excellent writing. How absolutely unreal it was to read this and to know it was his debut.

This story of a young boy whose mother is suffering from alcoholism gives a sharp and unflinching view of how the disease affects every one around her, even those who don't care about her. It is an on the page train wreck and you can't look away from it, no matter how tough the scenes. You see the addiction mostly through Agnes's and Shuggie's eyes.

Shuggie, or Hugh Bain, named after his father, is the youngest of the children. Catherine, the eldest, has the wisdom and foresight to escape early on. She washes her hands of the whole mess. Leek, the middle child, is an unrealized artist. He often takes off to his hideout. While he tries to protect Shuggie not only from the "scheme's" bullies, but from their mother's episodes, he can only do so much. He is the only one working, and without what little he makes, the "dole" is never going to be enough.

The relationship between Shuggie and his mother is something to behold. He loves her unconditionally, cares for her in the ways a boy shouldn't have to, but does because he is compassionate, and perhaps knows Agnes better than anyone.

As well, Shuggie knows he's different, feels different, but he can't explain himself. Leek tries to show him how to walk, and Shuggie practices, but Shuggie's deeply rooted awareness goes beyond mannerisms, speech and actions.

As an aside, there were many words and cultural aspects I thought fascinating. For instance, the word scheme was used a lot and after looking it up, I found that it's a derogatory term for public housing - which is also called "council housing." The word wee was used often and so were many other words, like "no'' for "not," and "dinnae" for "didn't" All of it was very natural and I could hear them speaking in the dialect as I read. Every so often I found myself inserting "wee" into my own thoughts, like I'll just put it on the wee table, or, I'll just step outside for a wee bit. Imagine, a Southern Scottish accent.

Many every day services like hot water, watching the television, (telly) etc., were run off of meters. You had to put money in the meters to have these things, and Agnes, Shuggie and the others were always breaking them open to steal coins to either pay for her alcohol, the taxi, or sometimes food. A popular food seemed to be "tinned custard."

Bit by bit, there is the descent. The perpetual rise and the inevitable fall. The hope, despair, restarts, do-overs, umpteen failures and a few wins. The abusiveness to mind and body, and not to only Agnes, but to Leek as well, and most especially to Shuggie, because, "if you're no' a wee girl, then you must be a wee poof. Are ye a wee poof?"

A disturbing, yet fascinating story with what felt almost like a private peek into the lives of a family. Such a heavy, dark story - and of course - I loved it. ( )
  DonnaEverhart | Jun 21, 2022 |
I don't know how to rate this one. It was well written but just way too painful to read. ( )
  Berly | May 19, 2022 |
I am conflicted by this story. It is very gritty. Poignant? Perhaps. Insightful? Possibly. Not to be read if you're feeling down or depressed? Definitely. In spite of its dour nature, it was relatively easy to read, which I guess suggests it was well written. Was the story uplifting, or did it leave me filled with hope? Not really. Was I glad when I finished reading it? Yup! ( )
  Neilatkallaroo | Apr 7, 2022 |
This is the sad tale of an alcoholic mother and her youngest child. It really heralds the selfishness of the alcoholic. I know they have their reasons and I know they are generally good people but nevertheless, this woman was more concerns with her needs than she was for the needs of her children. Debut novel, Scotland. Booker. ( )
  Kristelh | Mar 24, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (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 (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stuart, Douglasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Coulson, JezCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
King, AngusNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pickersgill, MartynAuthor photographsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vries, Willemijn deNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, StuartCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For My Mother, A.E.D.
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The day was flat.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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