Shuggie Bain By Douglas Stuart


Shuggie Bain By Douglas Stuart- The 2020 Booker Prize Winner

Douglas Stuart’s avowedly autobiographical first novel is a story about poverty, addiction and abuse and therefore was seen by members of the group as a grim experience. However, Stuart portrays such an understanding of the relationship between a child and a substance abusing parent that the book was held in esteem by most of the book club members. Stuart definitely has the ability to combine love and deep sadness, giving equal weight to both. The book is set in the 1980’s in Glasgow’s filthy tenements and progresses to the exploration of life in a mining village just outside the City.

Shuggie’s mother, Agnes descends through the degrading stages of alcoholism, ever more vulnerable to ever more predatory men. Her only constant relationships are with her children, whose knowledge of her disintegration is therefore intimate and private. The oldest, Catherine, marries in her late teens to get away from her mother and moves to South Africa. Alexander, “Leek”, is a gifted artist who carries around with him a two-year-old letter offering him a university place, stays to try to teach Shuggie how to “act normal” – i.e., appear to conform to the norms of working-class Glaswegian masculinity, which does not come naturally. Leek also stays in faltering hope of saving Agnes, until one day she throws him out, leaving the young teenage Shuggie as her sole carer.

Stuart’s depiction of women is very harsh and as one member said it is a book that is ‘heavy on lines, with colloquial dialect and language’. The work shares a picture of a roller- coaster life with immense highs and lows. As the book draws ever nearer to the ending, we are left reeling with many emotions but there was no doubt in our minds how wonderful Shuggie is and how we all shone the light for his future.

The group scored the book 8 out of 10

Isobel Davies