Book review ‘Shuggie Bain’

  • Writer: Douglas Stuart
  • Publisher: Picador (PanMcmillan)
  • Publishing year: 2020
  • Number of pages: 430
  • ISBN: 978-1529019285
  • Winner of the Booker Prize 2020
  • my rating: 4,5/5


Winner of ‘Book of the Year’ at the British Book Awards 2021
Winner of ‘Debut of the Year’ at the British Book Awards 2021

‘A heartbreaking novel’ The Times
‘An amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love.’ The judges of the Booker Prize
‘Tender and unsentimental . . . The Billy Elliot-ish character of Shuggie . . . leaps off the page.’ Daily Mail
‘Douglas Stuart has written a first novel of rare and lasting beauty.’ Observer

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life, dreaming of greater things. But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and as she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different, he is clearly no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

Shuggie Bain lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride. For readers of Hanya Yanagihara, Emma Donoghue, Alan Hollinghurst and Frank McCourt, it is a heartbreaking novel by a brilliant writer with a powerful and important story to tell.


Beware! Toxic characters, bullying, alcoholism, (verbal) abuse!

Tragic, that is the least you can say about this novel. It hits hard, (my father was an alcoholic as well so I recognise some things like the arguing and fighting) so this was a journey through parts of my past as well!

The story of Shuggie is one that I feel will reverberate for a long time and will send ripples in what I will read next… there’s just no competition. This book is hard and tragic and so raw, rough, but at the same time there is something so soft in the middle. Alcoholism is a disease that affects everyone involved with it.

In Shuggie’s case, it’s his mother Agnes that suffers from the affliction. The drinking started after marrying Big Shug (the other Shuggie Bain, in other words) and only worsens , just like her situation. It becomes so bad that Shuggie’s sister and brother leave their mother ànd Shuggie. This only makes it worse for the little lad, of course, having to survive with a mother that drinks up all of the money.

This book has the same impact that ‘A Little Life’ had on me. I will definitely think a lot about it! This is probably one of the best books I will read all year (it already is now)

Shuggie Bain… (actually this novel could easily have been called Agnes or The Bains…) his life wasn’t easy… not only did he have the alcoholic mother, there was also his effeminate ways that led to pestering and bullying… people told him he was ‘off’ (remember, this is situated in the eighties) but Shuggie was not ‘off’… he’s just this sweet boy, still stuck to his mother’s skirt… it’s a search for life, a survival in a jungle of vodka and beer bottles, where a dance can get you almost killed…

And in this novel, one ‘character’ needs to be mentioned as well… the city of Glasgow! Dark, dusty, decrepit and demonic… but with a shiver of hope on the horizon! Shuggie will find his way in life!

There’s one more question I’d like to raise here: Once a drunk, always a drunk? In my experience (and in this book’s) I would dare say: yes. But that might be a tad too pessimistic maybe?

Great job, Douglas Stuart! I am definitely curious about Young Mungo now!

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