“She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”
What a truly sad story! My heart just broke for our protagonist Shuggie and of course his alcoholic mother, Agnes, who seemed to make the wrong choices in a place that was hard hit by poverty, hardship, and gloom. In essence, Agnes, is the main story line and as we follow her we feel great compassion not only for her struggles with alcohol, but also with a husband, a taxi driver, who philanders. Looking for love, Agnes only received the contempt of her husband who finally abandoned her and his son.
The setting is the grey and ominous Glasgow, Scotland where the family struggles. The older children, separate themselves from their mother, so it is Shuggie who is left to care for her and she for him. Agnes does have moments of sobriety where she pictures a very different life for herself and Shuggie, one where she will have a front door, and one where her life, her looks, and her style will be like her idol Elizabeth Taylor.
As Shuggie grows, he also struggles with his identity making him a target for the neighborhood kids. Shuggie is indeed different and that difference is one he needs to come to terms with.
This is an exhaustive read, one that will make the reader feel the depression, the hopelessness, and the despair of a family left bereft by governmental policies and the short sighted view of others. Honestly, it was a very difficult read for me as I was dragged into a life I could hardly imagine.
It was a wonderfully written story, but one that could cause a well spring of unhappiness and deep feelings in the reader.
Thank you to Douglas Stuart, Grove Press, and Netgalley for a copy of this tragic story.
and here’s the author:
Douglas Stuart is a Scottish – American author. His debut novel, ‘Shuggie Bain,’ is the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize.
‘Shuggie Bain’ was a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Kirkus Prize for Fiction. He is currently at work on his second novel.
His short stories, ‘Found Wanting,’ and ‘The Englishman,’ have been published by The New Yorker magazine. His writing on Gender, Class and Anxiety was 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.