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Shuggie Bain

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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 run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher's policies have 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 him and his siblings. 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 philandering taxi-driver 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 care for her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Shuggie is meanwhile struggling to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that he is "no right," a boy with a secret that all but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her--even her beloved Shuggie.

A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction. Recalling the work of Edouard Louis, Alan Hollinghurst, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, it is a blistering debut by a brilliant novelist who has a powerful and important story to tell.

430 pages, Hardcover

First published February 11, 2020

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About the author

Douglas Stuart

15 books3,263 followers
Douglas Stuart is a Scottish - American author. His work has been translated into 39 languages.

His debut novel, Shuggie Bain, is the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. It won the Sue Kaufman award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Book of the Year, and the Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2021. It was also Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year. Shuggie Bain was a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the Pen Hemingway Award, the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, The Rathbones Folio, the LA Times Art Seidenbaum Award, and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize.

His second novel, Young Mungo, was a #1 Sunday Times Bestseller.

His short stories have been published by The New Yorker. His essays on Gender, Class and Anxiety are featured on Lit Hub.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, after receiving his MA from the Royal College of Art in London, he has lived and worked in New York City.

Follow him on instagram at Douglas_Stuart or Twitter at Doug_D_Stuart

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 14,816 reviews
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,602 reviews24.8k followers
November 19, 2020
Winner of the Booker Prize 2020!

Without doubt, Douglas Stuart has written one of the books of the year, a coming of age story, an unflinching, bleak and emotionally heartbreaking portrayal of a beaten dysfunctional family and Glasgow community, suffering the agonising pains and despair of the Thatcher era in the 1980s. To this day, despite Margaret Thatcher's death, I have yet to forgive her for her divisive ideological policies and her all out war against Britain's poor and working classes, highlighted by her notorious claim that there was no such thing as society, as she laid waste to large sections of society with the huge rise in unemployment and poverty, devastating communities and lives. She is the precursor to what followed in the UK, right through to the recent times with the Bullingdon boys, David Cameron and George Osborne, making the poor, disabled and vulnerable pay for the 2008 crisis through the disaster that was austerity, laying the ground for what is happening today.

With illusions of a better life, the beautiful Agnes Bain leaves her husband for a taxi driver, a poor excuse of a philandering human being who fails and abandons her. A firm believer in the importance of how things look as opposed to how they are, a proud Agnes puts up a good front with her false teeth as her world falls apart, and she begins to drink as a coping mechanism for the failures in her life, becoming a slave to her addictions. In this movingly profound story of the young Hugh 'Shuggie' Bain from the age of 6 to 17, Shuggie is neglected and abandoned, even by his siblings, Leek and Catherine, entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of caring for Agnes, believing and hoping that his love for his mother will be enough. His life is further plagued by not fitting in the ideals of masculinity, a misfit viewed as not quite right, bullied, in a relentlessly dark narrative of violence and abuse.

This is powerful, desperate, tragic and harrowing storytelling, taking its toll on the reader, there is nevertheless, amongst the grim realities of life, slight slivers of light and hope. Stuart is with his characters, so compassionate, and understanding of the all too important context, for example, as Agnes is failed, so like the domino effect, she in turn goes on to fail others. Even as my heart broke for Shuggie and the life and world that is his fate, I cannot regret reading this superb debut, it is remarkable, so beautifully written with its terrific dialogue, and absolutely unforgettable. A novel that captures a forgotten history and impoverished Glasgow that paid the price with the horrors experienced by people and communities for policies designed by politicians to promote the inequalities that blight our country. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
June 14, 2021
This is a very dark, depressing, gritty read. It also might be a challenging one for those unfamiliar with the Glasgow dialect.

Shuggie Bain is a story of substance addiction and abuse. Think of a possible content warning and it is probably in this book. Graphic rape. Physical and emotional abuse. And beyond these overt horrors, the narrative itself is just so... bleak. It seems fitting that the cover is in black and white because Stuart makes this world feel so grim and grey with his descriptions. Even the most basic of actions feel ugly.

Hugh "Shuggie" Bain is a young boy just trying to get by in Thatcher-era Scotland. This novel - though the author's note makes you wonder how much of it is truly fiction - is about Shuggie's complex feelings towards his mother, Agnes, who is both his hero and a woman who is falling apart. She has been abandoned by Shuggie's father, alone with her kids and her alcoholism, trying to find small pieces of happiness in a life that feels so out of her control.

What makes this novel so sad is that you really can feel what it is to love so deeply a person who is failing you so terribly. Shuggie - and Douglas Stuart, I think - loves Agnes. He could be just another story about a neglected kid with an alcoholic parent, but this is nothing so one-dimensional as that. Even at her worst, it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Agnes. To feel her wanting to try, even as she fails.

There are demons big and small in this book. The kind that are selfish people who behave unkindly, the kind that are addictions which enslave a person, and the kind that made the Thatcher era such a misery for the Northern working class. I understand this culture too well. I grew up in Yorkshire, and the effect of this time was so great, the horrors so deeply-engraved that many people from working class areas still whisper the name "Thatcher" like a curse.

I would not recommend reading this unless you are in a good mental place. It is a horrible, dreary read, there's no doubt, but if you see past the layers of ugliness and allow this to rip your heart out, I also think there's a lot of love to be found in here.

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Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
November 10, 2020
Reminded me of A Little Life. Outstanding, immersive, raw storytelling. Compelling characters.
Profile Image for Adina ( On hiatus until next week) .
827 reviews3,232 followers
November 19, 2020
Worthy winner of the Booker Prize 2020 I only read this book from the shortlist but I am so glad it won.

While I am not following the Booker Prize this year, I’ve decided to read Shuggie Bain because of a flood of positive reviews on my GR feed. Although the subject was bleak, I decided that the praise cannot be for nothing and that it will be worth it. It was, although it wasn’t easy to go through it.

The book is the portrait of a failed poor family in 1980’ s Glasgow during Thatcher, not a luminous period in the City’s history. The period was plagued by high unemployment and its aftermath: poverty, violence, drugs, prostitution, alcoholism. First of all, Agnes Bain would have been a more suitable name for the novel. She is Shuggie’s mother and an alcoholic. Actually, the whole book circles around her fight with the addiction and her misery, triggered by the gap between her poor choices in men and her overreaching ambitions in life. With an absent father and two older siblings who found their own methods to get away from home, Shuggie starts to take care of his mum at an age where he should only be playing. He helps her undress and makes her tea in the mornings to help with the hangover. He later learns to read the signs and predict the state of her drinking stupor so he can find the best ways to attend to her needs. Agnes drinks all their money and they often have no food. In order to maintain the appearances of wealth she spends more money than she receives from social aid on things bought from a catalogue. However, she keeps her standards, always dresses immaculately and wears perfect makeup, even at her worst. Besides having to take care of her mother and school. Shuggie faces an additional struggle, the coming to terms with his sexuality, his need to be normal and the bullying he has to suffer from the others kids. Despite everything, Shuggie fiercely loves and protect his mother and that is what makes the novel even more heartbreaking. Agnes loves him back but her affection is not enough to make her quit “the drink”.

For this debut novel, the author got inspired to write his book from his own childhood and his mother struggle with the drink. Although the author is also gay he said that the novel is not autobiographical.

Shuggie Bain is bleak, heartbreaking, agonizing and tragic but it also offers some glimmers of hope here and there. The book is bit on the long side, a bit repetitive but it was necessary so it can make the reader understand the cycles between sobriety and drunkenness and alcoholic goes through in hie/her struggle.

I both listened and read the novel and I can say that the audiobook enhanced my experience. The dialogues are written in Glaswegian slang and the narrator does an excellent job differentiating between the characters and the way they speak, which also means his accent is sometimes very strong. Having said that, after an hour or so of listening I got used to it and had no problem to continue.

I hope this novel reaches the shortlist and maybe even wins the Booker prize.
Profile Image for fatma.
899 reviews562 followers
January 13, 2022
Shuggie Bain is one of those novels where, for me, the form let down the content. This is a story about alcoholism, abuse, and poverty, and it is unremitting in its depiction of those things. For all its heavy subject matter, though, it left me largely impassive. It felt like the more the narrative wanted me to feel, the less I actually felt.

The crux of my problem with this novel is its form--that is, its narrative structure and writing style. The writing in Shuggie Bain falls under the weight of its story, not necessarily on a sentence-by-sentence basis, but on a more holistic level.

The narrative, here, suffers from a kind of stasis: it's repetitive, lacking dynamism in both character and plot. Over and over again we see Agnes, the main character in Shuggie Bain aside from Shuggie himself, engage in the same cycle of abuse: she drinks, she gets herself into increasingly precarious situations, she tries to quit drinking, she is seemingly on the mend, and then she relapses. Of course, I can recognize that this kind of cycle exists for many of those who have struggled with substance abuse; I never expected Agnes to get over years of substance abuse after a single attempt to quit drinking. My issue is that narratively, it didn't make for very engaging reading. It's one thing to be reading about the same plot point happening over and over again; it's another thing to have that plot point be about substance abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. The end result was that not only did I start to get impatient with the novel, but I also just started to feel increasingly distanced from and indifferent to its story.

More than that, though, I felt like I never got to know the characters beyond their suffering. There were a few scenes here and there that had genuinely earnest and caring character interactions, but beyond that it was just more of the same: characters either inflicting or being subjected to abuse.

To put it simply, Shuggie Bain largely prioritized the situational over the psychological: the overwhelming need to buy alcohol when you're already extremely financially straitened, the binge drinking and subsequent blackouts, the vulnerability that comes with being a child of an alcoholic mother. What I wanted from Shuggie Bain was to emphasize the psychological alongside the situational, to give me a closer look into the thoughts and emotions of its characters, to make me feel like I knew them and not just the things they did or the things that happened to them.

I want to tread carefully here because I don't want my criticism of this book to be "it was too depressing." Depressing things happen in the world; it feels like a bit of a disservice to call experiences that many people have gone through "too depressing," especially for a novel like this where, I believe, at least some of the story is autobiographical. My problem is not that it was a depressing story, but that it wasn't a particularly well told one.

I know I've been talking about the form and content of a novel as if they're two separate things, but really when it comes down to it, they're inextricable. The content doesn't exist without the form. When a story isn't told well, it doesn't matter how good or bad it is; the end result is just a poorly told story.

(Thanks so much Grove Atlantic for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!)
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,006 reviews36k followers
November 20, 2020

Huge congrats on the National award nomination

My heart and gut were grievously affected by this story.
I learned a lot. I felt even more.

I’ve already discussed this book in length with my husband- making him read parts with me. I tried to comprehend the brutal conditions...
I was a little confused in the beginning.... needing to read each sentence slowly.
I didn’t feel familiar -enough- with the setting or history.

I’m ashamed to say how little I knew about the 1980’s - 1990’s - poverty-ravaged Thatcher-era in Glasgow.... horrific devastation - overflowing with hunger, unemployment, working-class struggles, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, gambling, bullying, violence, and despair in Scotland’s biggest city.

I spent a couple of hours ( thanks to this book)... reading up on the Thatcher era. I even discovered some photos ( thank you Google), by a French photographer, Raymond Depardon, whose photos expressed profoundly the bleak conditions.
The photos are worth viewing along side reading this book.

Douglas Stuart has given us - scene after scene - a blistering slice of reality—which boggles the harmony of my mind—evoking disarming emotions.
It’s novels like these with historical substance- that helps us make sense - have compassion- of so much senselessness.

When reading parts of this book with my husband, Paul,....
“Slumdog millionaire” came to his mind....
John Irving characters came to mine.

“Shuggie Bain”....
.....exposes the realities of the shocking depths of poverty... with vivid characters whose weaknesses were both credible and compelling.
Douglas Stuart’s affection for his characters are palpable and his skill as a writer undeniable.

My tummy did somersaults a few times...
Sentences were crushingly unsettling. Yet, it’s the characters - especially Shuggie Bain- I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

The dialect was powerful - enriching characterization , geographical, and social background of the Bain family.

There was a civil war going on.
With mass unemployment, drunk people staggering through the streets... communities were collapsing.

The* Bain Family* was the prime focus during daunting times...during a time when leaders in government were greedy capitalists...
... relevant to times today.

Agnes Bain...( whose beauty is compared to with Elizabeth Taylor)...is
an alcoholic. She stands tall ....after a binge of drinking - with her make-up and clothes...
I thought about a line I heard years ago:
“when you feel crappy on the inside, dress it up on the outside”. Agnes was that type of woman.
Her second husband, Hugh, (Shug), was a philandering taxi driver, scumbag human being. Slim and evil are appropriate words to describe him.

At the start of this story,
Agnes and Hugh live on the sixteenth floor in a tiny apartment with their three children - ( Leek, Catherine, Shuggie), and Agnes parents: Lizzie and Wullie Campbell.
You’ll get to know everyone.

The Bain family was living on the edge with devastating dysfunction...
.....( hurting each other - neglect & abandonment-escape -addictions were the norm)....

As Shuggie, ( youngest in the Bain family), comes-of-age, we are reminded and awaken to the what happens to children when they grow up with debilitating chronic chaos.
I don’t want to say too much about Shuggie- himself- other than to say he will live in your thoughts long after the book ends.

Love, loss, abuse, addictions, leaving...
trauma, loneliness, being different, a ‘mother/son’ connection... are themes explored.

Beneath all the pain there is hope coursing through this novel. There is redemption- but nothing is sugar-coated.
We are not left with a fluffy ending...( tears filled my eyes at the end)....
Stuart does not sneer at domestic heartache - or infuse it with doom - he depicts realism.
His affection for his characters are palpable and his skill as a writer undeniable.

Thank you Netgalley, Grove Atlantic, and Douglas Stuart for the opportunity to read this book early.

“Shuggie Bain” will be released in February, 2020.
Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
November 19, 2020

I think my heart grew three sizes reading this.

Shuggie Bain is a young boy growing up in 80s Glasgow, with an alcoholic mother, absent father, and a dawning sense that he just doesn’t fit the same mould as all the other kids. It is a stark, evocative novel that presents both its setting and its characters with deep empathy.

We follow Shuggie from ages six to seventeen, but it is not much of a childhood as he spends most of it looking after his mother. Really, this novel is her tragic story and could just as easily have been titled Agnes Bain. She is both cause and effect of the wreckage of Shuggie’s life, coloured as it is by poverty and violence. She fails him and is failed by others. Meanwhile, Shuggie struggles with the standards of masculinity required of him by his peers, and the hopelessness pervading a community put out of work and with nowhere to go. Your heart breaks for Shuggie, Agnes, and everyone else in this forlorn place.

It’s hard to explain why a 450-page novel that is so bleak and devastating is worth your time. Not everyone likes sad stories, and even those who do need to be in right mood for something like this. Shuggie Bain is immersive, authentic, extremely moving, and a remarkable debut.
Profile Image for Beata.
729 reviews1,115 followers
January 24, 2021
Rarely does it happen that a novel full of despair, bleakness and solitude engages me so deeply and fully. Reading the story of Shuggie and his family was never interrupted by a ray of something positive or uplifting. This novel is so real that makes you hurt and and the same time you do not wish to leave Shuggie with his mother, an alcoholic, but quite the contrary, you pray for a little sunshine at the end of the day.
Agnes's devastating addiciton destroys what is left of her family, with her daughter moving out to another continent, and her older son giving up on her despite efforts to help out. The youngest, Shuggie, clings to his mother and in a most caring way looks after her.
This is not an easy novel to follow, with a raw depiction of alcoholism and the destructive impact it has. It is the disease but it is also the place, Glasgow in the 1980s, after Ms Thacher's regulations that closed down the mines and left thousands of people unemployed and destitute. The district (scheme) where the Bains live is the place that can offer nothing but hostility and lack of prospects.
I do recommend this splendid piece of writing but there is a warning to those who will decide to pick it up: prepare for a book that will not make you smile and happy. On the other hand, this book will not leave you indifferent, not a chance!
I had a wonderful BR with Ceecee and Peter who made terrific comments and supported me with regard to the language in which the book is written as I did struggle a little with the dialect and slang. Ceecee and Peter, thanks!
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
March 20, 2020
I know it sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to describe this story as other than gut wrenching. It’s also beautifully written in authentic dialect which gives a feel of authenticity. If that’s not enough to make it feel real, you’ll think so when you read the first sentence of the Acknowledgements at the end.

This is a stark look at the impact of family dysfunction and alcoholism and the impact on the children who struggle through it. If this story of a family in Glasgow in the 1980’s doesn’t break your heart, I’m not sure what will. Shuggie is one of those characters you just might love and never forget. He is that for me.

I received a copy of this book from Grove Press through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 2 books714 followers
September 4, 2022
No book I've read ever touched me more than this incredible novel. To know that Stuart lost his own mother to alcoholism at 16 makes the story even more poignant and its telling all the braver.

Brilliant. Genuinely brilliant.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,534 reviews32.5k followers
June 11, 2021
this is a difficult book to review.

i cant really say it was enjoyable to read because its such a depressing and gritty story. it definitely requires the reader to be in the right headspace in order to get through some of the content. ive never personally known anyone who has struggled with alcoholism, but wow. what a horrific disease.

what i really got out of this book is just how much effort someone is willing to give for a person they love, even when they are constantly letting you down. thats why i found shuggie and his siblings to be the characters i wanted to read about the most. i really felt for them and their situation. which i why i found myself often skimming parts that talked about the neighbours or what the parents were up to. i found those sections of the book paled in comparison to the children. i just wish a book named after a character had more of that particular character.

but its a compelling story, nonetheless, and i can definitely see why it won the booker prize.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,454 followers
August 29, 2021
Well-deserved winner of the Booker Prize 2020
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a true gem, a wonderfully empathetic, but also tough novel about the son of an alcoholic mother growing up in Glasgow during the Thatcher era, and this debut might become all the rage this award season. Stuart's novel centers on young Shuggie, whose beautiful mother Agnes left her first husband - a steady and honest, but not very exciting man - because she dreamt of a more glamorous, affluent and adventurous life with her lover Shug. Caught up in her own want and daydreams, she marries the womanizing and abusive taxi driver and has her third child with him (Hugh, called Shuggie), but when Agnes realizes that he will not live up to her ideals and turn her life around, she starts wrecking herself with alcohol - and Shug leaves. Shuggie grows up feeling responsible for his mother, desperately trying to support her while feeling utterly helpless - at the same time, he struggles with his queerness, faces abuse and suffers under the oppressive poverty that surrounds him.

Stuart introduces us to a child who tries to take responsibility for overstrained grown-ups, his siblings who find different ways to cope, a woman whose happiness is fully dependent on the men she is with, a whole neighborhood going down with the collapsing industries, and working-class men and women who see their pride dwindle. Until today, Thatcher is a much-hated figure in Scotland, as during her time as Prime Minister, heavy industry pretty much collapsed, mines closed, the financial market was deregulated, and unemployment rocketed. Many workers felt like not only their livelihood, but their dignity was at risk (see the miners's strike 1984-1985), and Glasgow University found out that the rise in drug deaths in the 1980s was linked to the rise in inequality - the study talks about an "erosion of hope".

This "erosion of hope" is exactly what the characters in the novel experience. Stuart's writing is strongest when he paints individual, bleak pictures, grim vignettes about fear, brutality, surrender and self-hatred. Drunk and helpless, Agnes faces sexual assault, Shuggie is bullied and attacked, and the equally poor neighbors are fighting all kinds of demons, but they can all hardly find the strength to act in solidarity - they are overwhelmed by the cards life has dealt them. Meanwhile, Agnes' parents blame themselves, and especially her father, a worker of a different generation, has trouble stomaching what has become of his daughter - not that unworldly, selfish Agnes doesn't carry responsibility for her actions, she clearly does, but the reality that surrounds her makes it a lot harder for her to get up again, become sober and take another chance. Still, there are also glimpses of hope, there is love (although love is sometimes not enough) and the power of empathy and forgiveness.

A lot of dialogue is written in Scottish dialect, which gives the text an even grittier, more authentic feel. Stuart crafts elaborate scenes to illustrate (but never openly explain) his points, adding lots of atmosphere and giving intricate descriptions of people's looks, movements and behaviors: Agnes in a wet fur coat, shaking from withdrawal; Shuggie in his wellies stealing copper with his brother; balding Shug driving through Glasgow in his taxi - there are so many memorable scenes that shine through their almost visual quality and emotional intelligence.

This is a novel about a ravaged family in a desperate neighborhood, a story about addiction, and an evocation of a period of Scottish history that still reverberates. It is a compassionate text by a writer who knows what he is talking about, a companion piece to Trainspotting (not although, but because it is so different), a book not to be missed.

You can learn more about the German translation in my radio piece and in our latest podcast episode.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,736 reviews14.1k followers
March 5, 2020
4.5 I knew it! When I was only fifty pages or so into the book, I had the feeling it was going to break my heart. It did. Glasgow in the eighties, many live in council housing, a day to day existence. These people are so messed up, poor and struggling, trying to find money, love, desperate beyond belief. Agnes turns to drink, anything to escape the mess she has made of her life. Her three children, try their best, but it is never enough. One leaves home as soon as she can, leaving her mother and two brothers far behind.

It is Shuggie though who breaks my heart and to s certain extent his older brother Leek. They both have responsibilities they should not have at their age. Shuggie though has an additional struggle, as he doesn't fit in anywhere. His sexual orientation makes him stand out, he walks different, doesn't like sports. Ultimately he is picked on and bullied. He also feels if his mother just realized how much he love her, she would stop drinking.

This story feels do very real. Children that grow up in households where ones parent is an alcoholic, will recognize the authenticity of the way the children act. How they often blame themselves, take on responsibilities way too early. Believe me I know. I think that is why this book hit me so hard.

A terrific book, full of emotion and the struggles of a parent who can't face reality. A parent who struggles with a fearsome addiction. Yet, reading this one can't help but feel for her too.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Pedro.
191 reviews402 followers
December 11, 2020
First of all this novel shouldn’t have been titled Shuggie Bain as this story isn’t actually about him but about his mother and how her lifestyle and choices might have (eventually) shaped her son and his life. Everything about him was too nuanced to allow me to empathise with him and everything about his mother was too explicit for me to give a damn about her; and how many beers and glasses of vodka she needed to get drunk.

I know there’s always some kind of manipulative literary device behind every story that has ever been told but some authors tend to use it to the point where I spend more time wondering how their minds worked when telling the story than about the story itself. Because if an author decides to start a story with an older guy sexually harassing a kid, I want to know more, how the kid coped, the impact of this on him and maybe any consequences the pervert should’ve faced by the way!

But no, from that scene we go backwards in time instead and learn how many drinks and cigarettes the kid’s mother was having every day! Pages and pages of drinks and the mother’s frustrations and delusions. Plus a few mentions of the father’s love affairs, in case we were interested!

Speaking of the father, a taxi driver, his part of the story was what I think it makes for a dark and wonderful kind of read; Glasgow’s dark streets and alleys in the dead of night were wonderfully described, but unfortunately the guy didn’t have enough imagination to do anything else apart from thinking about new love conquests (and how to get rid of the old ones).

I’ve come across a few reviews of this novel recently and in general I can see people loved it. They say it’s dark; it’s not that dark guys, they say it’s bleak (aha!); nope, I’ll have to disagree again (sorry)! Finally it’s depressing; ok, I can agree about it being depressing but I’m not sure I felt the same kind of depressing feelings as those reviewers though!

I think that, perhaps, there’s some personal reasons for me not to have enjoyed this as much as I thought I would and definitely not as much as other readers did. All the poverty and hopelessness in this story seemed like heaven to me when compared with the life story of some (very) close people I know and care about.

No, I’m not making comparisons (I know there’s no way to measure suffering) but can you imagine, for example, what it would fell like to grow up with no parents at all (for some really nasty reasons); from the age of eight in a house with absolutely no conditions; and having your eleven year old brother as your only support till you both grow up? To be honest, and now that I’m thinking about it, I just realised I actually know a lot of real awful life stories involving children, but that’s not actually the point here.

The point is that I saw loads of potential in this one, but it ended up not having enough stamina for my liking. I only hope that next time Mr. Stuart would chose to tell us a story from his heart and not from his forgiving brain.

3 stars only because for a debut novel the writing was very good.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,776 reviews1,255 followers
January 23, 2023
DESERVED BOOKER PRIZE 2020 WINNER - and thanks to the BBC for featuring my congratulatory tweet just ahead of Nicola Sturgeon's (20: 38 and 20:45)


(also now winner of the Book of the Year as well as Best Debut Novel in the 2021 British Book Awards/"Nibbies")

A desperately moving, heartbreaking book: one which places hope and despair, love and brokenness on the same page, treating them with equal weight and empathy.

I first read this book ahead of the Booker longlist and felt sure (see below) it would make that list and could even be a potential winner - turns out I was right.

Re-reading the book now 1 week ahead of the winner announcement I appreciated even more than the first time what a beautifully crafted book this is. Unfortunately though, from the rest of the shortlist (a good part of which I have re-read in the last weeks), one has to conclude that the judges are more interested in topicality and importance than they are in whether a book is actually well written and this feels a book more suited to a rather better Booker vintage.

Her body hung off the side of the bed, and by the odd angle Shuggie could tell the drink had spun her all night like a Catherine wheel. He turned her head to the side to stop her choking on her rising boak. Then he placed the mop bucket near the bed and gently unzipped the back of her cream dress and loosened the clasp on her bra. He would have taken off her shoes, but she wasn’t wearing any, and her legs were white and stark-looking without the usual black stockings. There were new bruises on her pale thighs. Shuggie arranged three tea mugs: one with tap water to dry the cracks in her throat, one with milk to line her sour stomach, and the third with a mixture of the flat leftovers of Special Brew and stout that he had gathered from around the house and frothed together with a fork. He knew this was the one she would reach for first, the one that would stop the crying in her bones.

This book is a remarkable well executed debut by a Glasgow born author, now living in New York where he works as a fashion designer.

In a Lit Hub article (recommending other books set in Glasgow) he effectively sets the scene for this book:

I grew up in a house without books, which was not unusual for the time or the place. The working men who surrounded me bent steel for a living, they built fine ships, or traveled miles into the earth to hack away at coalfaces. We sons took after our fathers. We kicked things—first it was footballs, then it was each other—and as we grew, we had little time for books. We sought apprenticeships or we learned trades. We were proud, we were useful.

But the ruling conservative government cared nothing for the honest, working poor. They set about privatizing most manufacturing, removing all support for nationalized labor. In doing so Margaret Thatcher decimated the working man. Her policies swept all heavy industry from the west coast of Scotland in the span of a single generation and did it with all the disregard of a government separated by distance and several social classes. Steel, ships, coal, all gone. The men had nowhere to turn and they became chronically unemployed. They were emasculated and sent by a woman (no less) to rot away their lives into rented settees.

A theme also taken up in a recent New Yorker interview discussing a short story published there (as well as this book)

The Glasgow I grew up in was rife with drink, drugs, and gang violence. Margaret Thatcher and her remote Tory government closed all the heavy industry in the city within a generation; ships, steel, coal—all gone. This had a terrible knock-on effect on all employment, and working families had nowhere to turn; fathers and sons were all put out of work, with no hope, and it ushered in some of the worst addiction and health crises in western Europe ..

The book is effectively two intertwined stories – an autobiographically inspired story of the Bain family (particularly the mother Agnes and her youngest son – Hugh or Shuggie) over the period 1981-1992 (with Shuggie between 5 and 15); and a portrait of what was working class Glasgow in the early aftermath of what I can only really describe as the evils of Thatcherism – with (as the quotes above imply) its heavy industry male workforce becoming unemployed en masse (as collateral – possibly even deliberate - damage in Thatcher’s attempts to modernise Britain and break the power of the Unions) with poverty and addiction taking over.

Agnes (as she confesses at the rare AA meetings she manages to attend) is an alcoholic – but also a strikingly beautiful woman and a proud one (both in her speech – when she is not slurring – and her appearance – when not dishevelled by drink). When her first two children Catherine and Leck were still toddlers, she left their father and her first husband – a solid Catholic – for a reprobate (an appropriate term for a non-believing Scottish Protestant), charming, womanising taxi-driver Douglas (Shug) Bain.

For years they live with Agnes’s parents – until Shug (by now father to Shuggie) persuades Agnes they should move to a new development in the outskirts of the town – more it seems as a test of her loyalty as by now he claims to be tired of her drinking (or at least sufficiently bored with it to no longer even pretend to be conducting a serious affair with one of the dispatchers) – and he abandons her and the children there, to what turns out to be a devastated community, built near to a now almost closed mine.

Agnes is both desperately dependent on others, but also fiercely independent and the resulting combination of neediness and aggression causes all those around her to plot to escape her – over time Shug, Catherine (who escapes first to marriage to a step-cousin and then to emigration), the one true boyfriend she has (her sex life otherwise being either assaults on her when she is under the influence, or quick fumbles exchanged for drink or money to buy drink) and Leckie (who retreats first into himself and his drawing and then to a job and flat as soon as he is of age).

The only one who remains loyal to her – convinced, against not only all the odds but all the evidence, that there is some hope for her, is the growing Shuggie – who (as the opening quote shows) has to take on tasks and responsibilities well beyond his age.

At the same time he is struggling with his own burgeoning sexual identity. The affected mannerisms and snobbery he adopts from his mother (and which are also mixed up with his almost superstitious as well as guilt-ridden beliefs about how he has to avoid any behaviour which might worsen her chances of recovery) – only make him stand out more from the determinedly masculine culture around him, and lead to bullying, ostracism from his peers and incidents of sexual exploitation from older boys and possibly adults (which Shuggie himself largely tries to suppress from himself and so from the reader).

Shuggie’s main struggle though remains with his mother

”Ah just feel angry for the bad things they say about her. You should fight for her.”
“I do fight for her!” he said. “Mostly with herself, but it’s still a fight.”

And weaved around the tale of the Bain’s (as I said above) is a remarkable portrait of Glasgow. One senses that Shuggie’s troubled but deep relationship with his mother is an echo of the author’s relationship with the City of his birth.

As I remarked above this book is very impressive for a debut – showing huge writing maturity.

The dialogue is often rendered in dialect – it would be imprecise to say the book is written in a Scottish dialect, instead it is in a variety of Scottish (mainly Glaswegian) dialects – and for a closely observing reader, the gradations of accent and dialect are key signifiers of class/status/religion and also, importantly, aspiration.

The narrative though is not in dialogue (this is not say a James Kelman “How late it was, How Late” despite clear commonalities) albeit slang terms are scattered throughout it. For any British reader I would say the book was entirely comprehensible without any need to check terms – and for anyone of a British working class background of the right age, while much of the book may go way beyond poverty they experienced, there will I think be many familiar elements.

The writing itself is on one level straightforward, this is no stream of consciousness or different style of writing (like say “Milkman” – another book with strong commonalities) or experimentation, but it is extremely well rendered, with deeply rounded characters, with a vivid use of language and many striking and original similes.

One overwhelming impression I had of the book was of time and space: the time it must have taken to write and to craft, and the space it gives the reader to really get to know the characters and to experience the life they lead. This is a book where the length of the narrative and the apparent circularity of the action is crucial to conveying the character’s experiences.

I would be disappointed if this does not make the Booker longlist and far from surprised if it progressed further.

My thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
665 reviews3,234 followers
November 19, 2020
So happy that Shuggie Bain has won the 2020 Booker Prize! You can watch my live reaction to the ceremony and an interview with Douglas Stuart immediately after he won the award here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxu5dYhyQFY

This must be one of the most powerful accounts of alcoholism that I've ever read. “Shuggie Bain” follows the early life of its eponymous hero, but really this novel and Shuggie himself are dedicated to his mother Agnes. In the early 1980s she's raising her children in a Scottish mining town whose workforce has been stripped of its livelihood because of Thatcher's policies. With a clear-eyed detail the story shows the reality of her increasing dependency on drinking: the self-deception and the faltering attempts to deceive those around her, the schemes to obtain a dozen cans of Special Brew, the blackouts and humiliation, the men who prey upon her or enable her, the women who gossip about her and join her in drinking sessions, the way drinking makes her unemployable and even more dependant on benefits, how alcohol takes priority over food when shopping at the grocery store and how her children are left with nothing to eat. All the while adolescent Shuggie maintains a steadfast belief that his mother will get better even after the rest of her family abandons her. He's a sensitive, effeminate boy labelled as “no right” by many of the locals and it's heartbreaking how Agnes' alcoholism eventually comes between them as well. But this novel also captures the warmth, humour and humanity in its characters' lives. This is an intimate, gracefully-told story about a very ugly situation which expands to say much larger things about the way social and economic issues affect the lives of working class families.

Read my full review of Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart on LonesomeReader
January 19, 2021
Shuggie Bain is a beautifully written, poignant account of a Glaswegian family and their struggles through poverty, family breakdown, alcoholism, and community divisiveness. In a society where misery and despair circle like vultures, after years of economic assault from a Thatcher government on working-class people, the Bain family’s own story is one of profound hardship and an attempt to escape their embattled lives.

Shuggie Bain is a young boy, effeminate in nature, speaking and acting in a manner that regularly brings him into conflict with the other neighbourhood boys. He wants to be ‘normal’ and challenges himself to act normal, to be more like the others, but his nature and his love for his mother are things he can’t escape. While the book title may recognise Shuggie Bain as the main character, his mother Agnes is just as much an absorbing and predominant personality. Agnes is a damaged person, and in my opinion, is the real star of the story. Agnes has two children to a previous husband, Catherine and Leek. Shuggie is the son to her latest husband Shug Bain who is cruel, selfish, abusive, and spends his time chasing other women until he leaves completely. Agnes holds onto the notion that she can dress and speak in a way that elevates her from those neighbours in the tenements and mining streets, but her alcohol addiction drags that image down.
“How she could no longer pretend that she was nothing like them, that she was better born and stuck only temporarily in their forgotten corner of misery. It was pride, not danger, that made her so angry.”
The scenes Agnes faces illustrates how hardship and humour are two sides of the same coin. With a dreary life and unusual characters, humour is always present and ready to light the darkest moments.

Agnes, Shug, Catherine, Leek, and Shuggie all dream of escape from this life and one by one they manage to achieve some level of a new life – all except Agnes and Shuggie, who are thwarted by the millstone alcohol has on Agnes. All the characters offer a unique blend of traits that illustrate an exceptional complexity in human personalities and relationships. The dark humour renowned in Glasgow is evident and is characteristically deployed at the most inopportune moments. The brilliant Scottish comedian Billy Connolly grew up in the tenements of Glasgow, working in the shipyards under tough conditions, with a sense of humour, a community where families lived on top of each other and shared a duty to support each other in daily needs. Douglas Stuart creates characters in Agnes and Shuggie who challenge that camaraderie, thinking they should be living loftier lifestyles, Agnes because she couldn’t accept how her life panned out, and Shuggie, because he was devoted to his mother and complied regardless. Douglas Stuart is from Glasgow and much of the background associated with Shuggie is drawn from personal experience and a reference to his own alcoholic mother states that “My mother died very quietly of addiction one day.”

I would highly recommend this book especially for readers who enjoy deep character studies, a challenging background and human character observational insights that are off the charts. All brought to life with wonderful writing that has been widely recognised as it is the winner of the Booker Prize for 2020.

This was a Buddy Read with two amazing friends and reviewers, Ceecee and Beata. I loved the chat throughout the book, and it does really add depth to the experience of hearing and discussing other perspectives. Thank you so much, guys. I would like to thank Pan Macmillan, Picador, Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,465 followers
July 31, 2021
There were too many sentences in this book. This is a hefty 436 page very long very autobiographical novel which tells a straightforwardly miserable story about an alcoholic mother and her youngest son. It’s the Shuggie and Agnes Show but there are no laughs and any dancing is a pure embarrassment. Instead there is a whole lot of effing and blinding and throwing things, and enough tears to float a flock of geese. Not only is nobody laughing, the only smiling is of that ghastly fake sort when Agnes is trying to pretend she’s sober.

This is Glasgow in the 80s and 90s, wall to wall unemployment and life lived through a thick fog of cigarette smoke and Stella Artois. All the welfare benefit payments dished out to Agnes go swirling down her throat and the two kids she has left have to find their own food. Leek, Shuggie’s older brother, has only one word of advice to him – leave as soon as you can.

The heartbreak is that Shuggie loves his fall down drunk mother to distraction, and as is the way these things go sometimes, between the age of 10 and 15 he becomes her parent, and finds himself having to do a lot of nasty stuff that no kid should ever have to do for his mother. All of which we get in great detail.

Since this book gets nothing but 4 and 5 stars and as you know it won the big bad Booker Prize it’s clear that readers appreciated the banquet of human unhappiness that is this forlorn relationship. After his brother and sister escape, Shuggie is on his own with his terrible mother. If this was a movie, a Lowest Point would be reached but then some glint of light would appear in the form of a decent man, finally, after all the drunken one night stands. He would find Agnes sparked out on the floor and discover there was no food in the house (“What’s this? Nothing to eat all day Shuggie?”) and he would stick around and some tiny unextinguished spark of humanity would begin to grow in Agnes’ mind.

But this is no movie script so that doesn’t happen. There are hundreds of pages in this novel where not only do things not get any better, they never even look for a minute as if they could possibly get better, and Shuggie Bain turned into johnny one-note.

I was so glad when I finished this.
Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,116 followers
August 22, 2020
This is a very heart wrenching story of a young boy named Shuggie who was growing up in public housing in Glasgow.. third child of an alcoholic woman. The woman has three children .. the first two from one good man, who she leaves .. with both children for another man and then had Shuggie with him. The father of Shuggie was not a good man and he moved them all to public housing and then left them...and the woman became increasingly invested in alcohol.
Shuggie throughout this story tries wholeheartedly to help his mother..
This story shows us all the torment and anguish that the alcoholic and their loved ones endure.
This was a slow read for me.. but I’m glad that I read it. It is so very sad though.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,532 followers
March 2, 2021
One of the most moving and gut-wrenching novels I've ever read

I must confess: I had to take breaks from this big thick novel because at times it was simply too painful to read. Extreme poverty, alcoholism, bullying, homophobia, abuse – first-time novelist Douglas Stuart captures it all in intimate, authentic detail. And sometimes I found it just too much to take.

The Booker Prize-winning novel opens in 1992, when the 15-year-old Shuggie Bain is living alone in a delapidated Glasgow rooming house, working at a grocery store and dreaming of attending hairdressing school. He's just getting by, and tired of warding off the advances of one of the other lecherous, impoverished, heavy-drinking older boarders.

But it turns out he knows something about heavy drinking. We flash back to 1981, when Shuggie is growing up in his grandparents' apartment, with his glamorous mother, Agnes – who's said to look like Elizabeth Taylor – his father, Hugh (or "Big Shug"), and his older half-siblings Leek and Catherine. Agnes is a heavy-drinker, and her taxi driver husband's philandering – sometimes with her own friends – often brings along drinking bouts.

The family copes with her drinking in various ways; Hugh works the nightshift and sleeps around; the two older kids find refuges elsewhere. Only Shuggie stays at home with his mom. Soon Hugh finds them another home in a cesspool of a neighbourhood called Pithead – surrounded by an abandoned mine and slagheap – but he doesn't live with them. In fact, he moves in with someone else in another neighbourhood.

It's in Pithead that Agnes's drinking gets out of control. Once Catherine escapes – to go far away to get married in South Africa – it's up to the two boys to take care of her through benders and other activities she does to secure a liquid fix.

For a time, Agnes joins AA and meets a nice widower named Eugene, but he's uncomfortable with the fact that she doesn't drink. Things are fine for a while, until they're not. And Agnes's life spirals even further downhill.

Meanwhile, Shuggie – who's always been a bit of an outsider, preferring dolls and figurines to sports and so-called "normal" activities for boys – is dealing with bullying and ostracism, even from adult authority figures. He has a polite, fussy way of talking that brands him as odd. More than his siblings, he's forged a codependent, caretaking relationship with his mum, and has learned how to react to her every mood. (The kids are so sensitive that they can tell when they return home how far along she is in her drinking from the sounds she makes in the kitchen.) He also skips school to cash in her welfare coupons, which she uses for booze instead of food. On one level, the novel is a subtle indictment of the Thatcher era.

This novel is grim, but it's also full of a tough, dark humour – particularly when the Pithead women are bitching amongst themselves. Stuart's writing about the older Shug is unsparing; the once-desirable taxi driver is getting older, fatter and balder, and the things he does to try to maintain his looks are mercilessly detailed. Stuart doesn't spare Agnes, either, who's full of vanity, self-loathing and inarticulate yearnings. Even though she's troubled, and sick because of decades of alcoholism, it's clear she wants to be a good mother and a good woman for some man. She's just on a downward cycle that can only end badly.

The question hovering over much of the novel is: Will Shuggie survive his painful childhood, or is he irrevocably damaged? What's in store for him? And Stuart, who says the novel is semi-autobiographical – good LORD, I'm so glad he survived that – delivers a bittersweet, believable conclusion. It's not all rosy, but it's not entirely bleak, either.

This novel is going to take up residence in my head and heart for a while. There's a section recounting a particularly awful New Year's Eve that will likely haunt me for years. I'm sure the novel will resonate especially strongly with children of addicts.

The prose is clear and effective (much of the dialogue is in the Glasgow dialect, where "weans" means "wee ones," i.e. children), the insights into human behaviour unsparing and true. Sure, the novel could be 50 pages shorter, but I didn't mind spending time with Shuggie and Agnes, two real and unforgettable characters who leap off the page, demanding to be heard and loved.
Profile Image for Prerna.
222 reviews1,325 followers
October 1, 2021
Winner of the Booker Prize 2020.

Reading Shuggie Bain is like lying at the depths of an ocean, watching the seemingly calm surface from the bottom only to know it is ephemeral, that it will be wrecked soon by seismic tremors beneath the floors. It is waiting to be thoroughly destroyed and engulfed. It is to be resigned to the fate awaiting you at the end of this book: a searing heartbreak. I knew it all along, yet I couldn't stop reading.

I couldn't take my eyes off of Agnes Bain, who was so vibrant, so full of life and yet disappearing a little with every flip of the page. She does not disappear as a character, no, her presence is all encompassing. It is her essence that keeps escaping our grasp, until like Shuggie, we are only holding onto a reflection of her black curls, hairspray and despair.

Shuggie Bain, the character as well as the eponymous book, demand your emotions and unwavering loyalty even in the face of tragedy. In my mind, I sat beside Shuggie, when he was a sweet little boy hoping his presence was enough to keep his mother from detonating. And I watched him grow up into a young man of seventeen, cleaning up after his mother and still foolishly hoping his mother would make it, that she would survive the utter chaos enveloping her, and it made my heart ache.

There was an emptiness in his belly. It was below his stomach; it went deeper than hunger. He sat at her feet and quietly started to talk to her. “I love you, Mammy. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you last night.

I might need to eat an entire rainbow to even marginally recover from the devastation that is this book. It is one thing to read a book unaware of what it will develop into, but it's a complete emotional whiplash to read a book that's about 430 pages long and know within the first twenty pages that it only has dark alleys and endless tunnels. A book instilled with such emotional devastation needs a suitable counterweight either in the form of a total commitment to honest morbidity or enthralling characters that one can't help but not abandon, and in Shuggie Bain's case, we see both.

A part of me will always remain in the shabby little house in the miner's district, watching Shuggie dance and Agnes clap along.

Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,151 reviews1,688 followers
July 16, 2022

La foto di Jez Coulson sulla copertina.

Il romanzo è intitolato a Shuggie Bain – che ha preso il nome dal padre Shug, entrambi diminuitivi o vezzeggiativi di Hugh, il loro vero nome – in originale è ancora più lapidario, solo il nome e il cognome del personaggio, niente “storia di…”.
Ma la vera protagonista è la madre Agnes, alla quale Douglas Stuart dedica centinaia di pagine di questo suo romanzo d’esordio, coltivato scritto rivisto per dieci buoni anni, prima di approdare a un editore e portarsi a caso il prestigioso Booker Prize. Il ritratto di una donna della working class scozzese negli anni di Margareth Thatcher, la prima grande “restauratrice”, che ha fatto più danni di quanto sembrava possibile.
Agnes è bella, piena di vita e di desideri. Ma la cita è dura, la vita è povera, la fame dietro e davanti l’angolo, gli uomini vermi schifosi traditori infingardi violenti e stupratori. Situazione ideale per trovare compagnia nell’alcol.
Per Agnes solo birra chiara e vodka, niente whiskey o rum o altro. L’alcol se la porta via, un giorno alla volta, settimane, mesi anni uno dietro l’altro. e il suo a me pare il più commovente ritratto di donna alcolizzata nel quale mi sia mai imbattuto.

Douglas Stuart conosce ciò di cui scrive, racconta solo quello che conosce bene, da vicino, di persona: si specchia molto nel bambino, poi ragazzino, del titolo, lo Shuggie bullizzato ed emarginato tranne che da sua madre - solo Agnes lo capisce e accetta com’è – per gli altri è una femminuccia, checca, frocetto, rottinculo, succhiacazzi. Impresa dura crescere per Shuggie: ma perché non sei normale, gli chiede chi gli vuole un pizzico di bene, o forse prova soltanto meno schifo degli altri.
E Agnes, a chi corrisponde questo splendido ritratto che Stuart sembra conoscere così da vicino, al quale – ma tutto sommato a ognuno dei personaggi che mette in scena – regala una immensa tenerezza di linguaggio, nonostante la durezza delle scene descritte, crude e violente ma raccontate in stile all’insegna dell’empatia, della compassione, della tenerezza. Anime gentili che sopravvivono in posti difficili. E non sempre sopravvivono, a volte soccombono.

Ambientato a Glasgow, la più grande città della Scozia, durante gli anni Ottanta, quando i danni della politica thatcheriana erano già evidenti e palpabili, miniere fabbriche e cantieri chiusi, disoccupazione, sussidi. Esistenze che la disoccupazione rende dipendenti dai sussidi pubblici (disoccupazione, inabilità, figli a carico). Tutto sembra lentamente trasformarsi in dipendenza dall’alcol, quando non dalla droga.
Agnes s’è sposata un cattolico, alla cui schiera appartiene sia lei che la sua famiglia, una divisione tra rossi e blu, orangisti protestanti e cattolici che ricorda molto l’Irlanda, dalla quale proviene la famiglia Campbell di Agnes. Ha avuto due figli, femmina e maschio. Ma poi ha lasciato quell’uomo, buono e devoto che però la voleva moglie e angelo del focolare, la voleva rinchiusa tra quattro mura domestiche, e si è risposata con il tassista Shug Bain, protestante, collezionatore seriale di scalpi pubici, conquistati con le buone o le cattive durante il suo rituale turno di notte.
Il secondo matrimonio si porta dietro il terzo figlio, quello cui è intitolato il romanzo. Ma anche questa relazione naufraga, dopo essere sfociata in tradimenti e violenze, Agnes ha troppe aspettative per un uomo che non vuole scocciature, che non sa alzare lo sguardo dal suo ombelico, o più probabilmente dalla patta dei suoi calzoni.

I figli maggiori scappano alla prima occasione, rimane solo il piccolo Shuggie, il cui ruolo diventa quello di accudire la madre dipendente dalla bottiglia. Sono circondati da vicini di casa invidiosi di chiunque cerchi un riscatto. Glasgow sa essere bella e viva: ma quella dove cresce Shuggie è esattamente il contrario, brutta, squallida, misera.
E ciò nonostante la sua tenera tenace lotta per salvare e proteggere sua madre, e ancora di più il ritratto di Agnes, troppo intelligente e bella per la meschinità che la circonda, sono luminosi e ardenti.

Tutte le foto sono di Jez Coulson.
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews931 followers
February 25, 2020
This book is billed as a coming-of-age story but be warned...

Shuggie Bain is NOT a John Green book.

This is a graphic, gritty, unflinching coming-of-age story about the life of a precious child struggling for air under an avalanche of tribulations and his alcoholic mother of whom his love knows no bounds.

It takes a few chapters to settle into Shuggie's world but I implore you to stick it out.

Douglas Stuart's writing is exemplary in creating an immersive experience unlike any I've experienced in a long time. Bravo, sir.

** I recieved an ARC from Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. **
Profile Image for Doug.
1,983 reviews703 followers
November 19, 2020
Update 11/19/20: Well, I'm gob smacked! But couldn't be more pleased! FINALLY, for ONCE - the Booker judges got it right! This is the FIRST time in my 7 years of reading the entire longlist that the judges and myself aligned!

Although I have had an ARC of this for quite a few months, it took making the Booker longlist for me to actually get around to reading it, but I am so glad I finally did. Although I have only read 4 of the 13 of this year's Booker nominees, so far, it is going to take a lot for something to knock this off the top of my rankings. It is a really special book, astonishing in the depth of feeling, characterization, and sheer storytelling brio; one can tell how carefully crafted each and every sentence is (apparently it took the author over a decade to complete this debut - and surely autobiographical - novel) - and although the subject matter is rather bleak and depressing, the ultimate feeling this left me with was uplifting and exhilarating. The character of Agnes is sui generis, but each of the characters is delineated with sharp insight and the telling detail. My one minor quibble is that there is a LOT of Scottish slang ('gallus' is a great new word for me!), and perhaps a glossary for the more outré of these would have been helpful.

Often I find it easier to review something I disliked at greater length, and I really have little more to say about this, other than I enjoyed every moment of it, and hope it doesn't take Stuart another decade for a follow-up. In fact, assuming this is autobiographical - and since it ends when Shuggie is still a teen and Stuart is now somewhere in his 40's, there COULD conceivably be a sequel or two left exploring the character of Shuggie himself!

Addendum: Just found this on the Booker website: "I am currently putting the finishing touches on my next novel, Loch Awe. It is set in 1990's Glasgow, and is the tale of two teenage boys, who fall in love despite being divided along territorial, sectarian lines. It takes a look at toxic masculinity and the pressure we place on working-class boys to 'man up'. I wanted to show how young men growing up in extreme poverty can be some of the most victimized and overlooked people in British society. I am always looking for tenderness in the hardest places." YAY!!!

Finally, this is a really interesting interview with the author - love just listening to his accent, but it also provides a glimpse into his process and what he wanted to do with the novel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwCd2.... What a lovely and charming man.

Three additional items that MIGHT be of interest to Shuggie fans:




Many, MANY thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for this honest and enthusiastic review!
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
September 10, 2021
Crying. Laughing. Loving it. Fearing the next page. Obsessing with it. Talking nonstop about it. Forcing it upon others. Suggesting group therapy to deal with its brutality. Wanting to finish it NOW, even if it means cancelling every other plan for the week. Wanting it to last forever after finishing it.

I had the great privilege listen to the author talk about his book this week (and just to clarify, I mean at a real book talk in a real bookstore in a real town), and that alone is kind of sensational, considering how starved we have all been regarding all things cultural since March 2020, the date of its publication.

So of course it left me almost delirious with book joy. But I dare say I would have been impressed even if I had been going to the theatre and the opera and to museums each week during the last 18 months, for the book and its author are standing up for a uniquely universal truth: the love-hatred you feel in a broken family. You don't need to be a queer boy to a single, alcoholic mum in 1980s poverty-stricken patriarchal Glasgow to cry your eyes out. You will recognise yourself if you have ever attempted to love in a hard place, to grow in hostile soil, to liberate yourself in the cage of your specific environment. You will recognise yourself in the big comedy of small everyday tragedies...

Read it. Cry and rise!
Profile Image for Larry.
76 reviews8,773 followers
May 15, 2022
I read this book as a test, to see if I could handle the despair that is A Little Life - and if Shuggie Bain is in any way less emotionally wracking than A Little Life, I’m not sure that I am up to the task. I enjoyed this book, even though I kept waiting for Shuggie to catch that one break of happiness that everyone, especially him, deserves. The devotion and love he shows to his Mother, as well as to the rest of the family, is pure innocence. Great writing, unsure when I will tackle the Author’s next book, but I plan to.
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
228 reviews175 followers
November 18, 2020
Shuggie Bain is a remarkable debut. In fact, to criticize it at all would be to say it was too tightly woven, and that there wasn’t enough breathing room for the protagonist to fully self-actualize. This didn’t do the story a disservice, however: I could imagine Shuggie, tightly wound and a little suffocated by all that was his mother. And Shuggie Bain/Douglas Stuart paints those around him with such attunement that I could almost smell them.

The star of this story is Agnes Bain, a spirited woman who takes care to appear and behave with taste, until she gets too much drink in her. Shuggie Bain is the protagonist, he’s the one who changes, but Shuggie seems to lose sight of himself when focusing his sharp perceptions onto others, and much of what we get about him is from what others say. And of all the characters, Agnes is by far the most vivid, complex and alluring.

Stuart really captures the neighborhood culture of Scotland 1982-1992, the class structure, and the protestant/catholic divide. He also conveys a lot about the sibling dynamics, and how each of them deals with the power and the storm that is their mom. For Agnes is the storm, and she is the water on which her children – especially, Shuggie – navigate.

I’ve read reviews of other books that laid claim to painting the best portrait of being raised by an alcoholic parent. I think this one did it best for me. The writing felt true and intimate, the dynamics detailed and complex. The only deep disappointment I had was that the climactic moment came straight out of AMC’s Breaking Bad. If you didn’t watch that show, I imagine that this moment for you in Shuggie Bain will be shocking and satisfying.
Profile Image for Talkincloud.
161 reviews3,250 followers
July 7, 2021
Przejmująca i smutna proza. Klasyczna forma. Dużo nieupiększonych, prawie reportażowych scen. Ta opowieść, mam wrażenie, nie potrzebowała przejścia przez żaden filtr. Filtrem były tutaj oczy narratora i autora, który uchwycił w historii o Shuggiem i Agnes Bain wszystko, co powinno być uchwycone w relacji matka, dziecko, alkohol. Czułem wylewający się z ust bohaterów ból, któremu nie mogli zaradzić i któremu nie umieli sprostać. Lata osiemdziesiąte, era taczeryzmu, kryzys i bieda, a pośród zrozpaczonych rodzin w Glasgow ta jedna, w której dorasta mały chłopiec. Niewinny, choć z miejsca skazany na zapomnienie, bród i odrzucenie. Stuart sportretował toksyczne relacje w dobitny i realny sposób, pokazał nieunikniony koniec zatracenia się w nałogu i niejednokrotnie podczas lektury skręcało mnie w środku, bo doskonale wiedziałem, co przeżywa Shuggie i co, jak mniemam, przeżył sam autor. Przeżyłem to też ja, dlatego trudno mi było czytać tę książkę i udawać, że trzymam dystans. Moja głowa automatycznie odrzucała niektóre części tej powieści, bo okazywały się zbyt bolesne. Niemniej, odnalazłem się w tym dziele i może nie będę w stanie do niego wrócić, ale Wam na pewno zarekomenduję zapoznanie się z tą pozycją.

Powieść jak najbardziej zasługująca na czytanie. Poznałem też (niecałą) wersję angielską i muszę docenić stronę językową, bo autor napisał świetne dialogi w szkockim dialekcie. Trzeba docenić Krzysztofa Cieślika, tłumacza, któremu udało się oddać ten aspekt w języku polskim, ale nie zdradzę Wam, jak to zrobił —przekonajcie się sami.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,210 followers
September 7, 2020
The title of this book should have been “Agnes Bain", as it is primarily about the self-destructive journey of a woman in her mid forties whose addiction to alcohol ruins the lives of her three children, particularly the youngest, a sensitive boy named Hugh after his brutish father.
Set in the Glasgow of the eighties in an impoverished neighborhood, the bleak situation of this family unravels painfully slow, at a deliberate lagging pace, in episodes of Agnes’ failed attempts at sobriety and the inevitable relapses that follow along with the devastating effects they have on her children and their doomed futures.

This is also a love-hate story between a tormented mother and a sensitive boy that somehow reminded me of “On earth we’re briefly gorgeous”. Almost opposite in style but equally intense in delivery, Stuart uses the first-person narrator reproducing the Glasgow patter to make the reader participant of the little tragedies that befall on this family and the castigated community they live in where gender violence, addiction and abuse abound on a daily basis.

Even though I thought the novel dragged a bit in some parts, I was utterly moved by the portrayal of the relationship between Agnes and Shuggie. Stuart narrates from the heart, maybe even from experience, and the unconditional love the boy showers her mother with feels excruciatingly real, and sad, and unfair, but also extremely beautiful for its purity and innocence. To be able to evoke such feelings amidst the greyish setting of this novel is nothing short of a great achievement.
Blessings seldom come in a world like Shuggie’s, but this reader felt blessed by his indefatigable hope and silent courage, and that is what I take away with me; Shuggie’s authenticity and his blind belief in the goodness of people.
The title might be fitting after all…

I was given a free copy of the publisher through Netalley in exchange of an honest review
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