“Shuggie Bain: A Novel” by Douglas Stuart— A Boy’s Story

Stuart, Douglas. “Shuggie Bain: A Novel”,Grove Atlantic, 2020.

A Boy’s Story

Amos Lassen

Hugh “Shuggie” Bain is a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood living in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. His mother Agnes is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She  is a dreamer who thinks of her house and orders happiness through catalogues using credit. Shuggie’s father is a philandering taxi-driver yet Agnes manages to keep her pride by looking good. However, beneath the surface, Agnes uses drink for solace and she drinks away most of each week’s benefits that the family has to live on. Her older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother and leave Shuggie to care for her as he is struggling to somehow become the normal boy he so wants to be, but everyone has realized that he is “no right,” a boy with a secret that everyone but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction clouds everyone close to her.

Douglas Stuart’s first novel is a story of addiction, sexuality, and love is an look at a working-class family that we rarely see in fiction. We are taken into “a marginalized, impoverished community in a bygone era of British history. It’s a desperately sad, almost-hopeful examination of family and the destructive powers of desire.”

This novel is as much about Glasgow as it is about Shuggie and his mother and it is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It is a dysfunctional love story in which every attempt to thrive is ruined; a portrait of both a family and a place during the decline of the Thatcher years yet it is tender and unsentimental.

Stuart’s exploration of a mother-son relationship and look at alcoholism in Scottish working class life is told with lyrical realism. We feel the author’s love for his characters and he makes them unforgettable and touching.

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