Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

I finished Shuggie Bain, a debut novel by Douglas Stuart, on the day it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago when a friend texted to say it was the best book she’d read in a long time – bleak in places (many places as it turned out!) but humorous, compelling and so beautifully written. And she was absolutely right. It’s one of those books that stays with you, the characters rolling over in your mind. What has made it even more moving though, is an interview with Douglas Stuart that I read in the Times straight afterwards. Shuggie Bain is not a memoir, he insists. But the story he tells of a young boy growing up in the 1980s in poverty in Glasgow is quite clearly very close to the childhood he survived. Shuggie Bain’s mother is a beautiful, defiant woman with 3 children, no husband and a terrible, all consuming addiction to alcohol. She lives on benefits, spends all her money on drink and a lot of her time with destructive men. Circling her and trying to protect her all the time is her young son, Shuggie, who goes to heartbreaking lengths to look after his mother. Shuggie’s loneliness is compounded by the fact that from a very young age, other children taunt him for being different, effeminate. In his interview with the Times, Douglas Stuart says “There is nothing more healing than turning trauma into art. The best therapy for myself was to take all the trauma of my childhood and write about it.” Remember that if you read it. I know Douglas Stuart insists it’s not a memoir, but I still now find myself cheering for Shuggie, delighted at his success all these years later, as the book is named as one of the standout novels of the year, one that could win this prestigious literary prize. What a triumph that would be for a young boy, who survived so much hardship, grief and misery but kept going when most would have just given up. 

One thought on “Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

  1. I have just finished this book, brilliant read, you can feel Shuggie’s pain and hope. Will be recommending to my family and friends.

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