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Shuggie Bain

TITLE : Shuggie Bain

AUTHOR : Douglas Stuart

GENRE : Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Cultural Fiction, Scottish Cultural Fiction

FR RATING : ⭐⭐⭐⭐( 4.5 Stars)



DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Netgalley, Pan Macmillan and Picador books for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

DISCLAIMER : Substance addiction, alcoholism, substance abuse, physical abuse, Child abuse, child sexual abuse, rape, sexual abuse, molestation, and explicit language

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. To know that this book was rejected 32 times before it got published is baffling to me. Reading that was such a shock and the irony of it is just great. The book is a winner for the Booker Prize, and it’s almost like the universe telling the publishers where to take their rejections. I haven’t read the other books on the list, and I do have to say after reading this book, I am not surprised that this book got the recognition it did. Every time I see a book that is a popular book, on Netgalley, especially one that is already published, I know that there is no chance I could get to review it. But despite my doubts, I still requested it, and I am happy to say I was excited when I saw this on my shelf.

The story is of Shuggie Bain, a young boy who becomes the sole caretaker of his alcoholic mother after his dad and siblings leave him. Agnes Bain is all about appearance. After leaving her Catholic husband for an exciting adventure with a philandering taxi driver, she is faced with the realization that the life she dreamed of will never come to fruition. She is depressed and takes to drinking to drown her sorrows. Agnes and her three kids move to a public housing unit, feeling hopeful for a better future. Life had other plans for Agnes, who will be abandoned, again by her husband. He punishes her for not giving up on her drinking and only visits her to give her more abuse. In all of this, Shuggie is the only one who unconditionally loves his mom and his belief that he will be enough for her to stop the drinking. All along Shuggie is trying hard to be like other boys and struggling with fitting in. He is bullied and abused by his school mates, and the need to be normal holds him back from being free. The novel is an intimate and raw portrayal of the ugliness that resides in the hearts of humanity. The strengths, the weaknesses of the individual characters, and the love that encapsulates all of them bring forward an unforgettable story of a young boy with a heart of gold and naivety that will ultimately threaten to destroy him.

Shuggie bain is the story of the relationship of a young boy and his alcoholic mother. The story tells us the harsh and dark truths of addiction and the destruction it causes in families. The story is set in the 80s Glasgow, Scotland, during the Thatcher era. The run-down public housing unit and the pithead captures the grim reality that is the family’s norm, and it does a great job of portraying the gloom and doom that is the ever-present mood of the book with slivers of hope and happiness sprinkled in between. The despair and the harrowing conditions of the society during the Thatcher era are depicted with so much care that, we feel their struggle, pain, and desolation right along with them. The book also shows us the impoverished state of people struggling to make ends meet using only their meager benefits. Douglas Stuart doesn’t shy away from laying bare the hard, inevitable truths about poverty, the rabid hole of addiction, and how it can chip away little by little leaving the hollow remains.

As I said before, the themes are going to be hard to read about. Alcoholism, substance abuse, physical abuse, rape, sexual abuse, molesting, and explicit language are all a huge part of this story. And if you are somebody, who is going through depression, or can be triggered by any of the above-mentioned topics, you should not read this book. Aside from the trigger warnings, the other aspect that was a bit difficult to get used to was the dialect in which the dialogues are written. After a while, you get used to it. So I would consider these things before picking up this book.

The pacing is quite slow, and the POVs and the events keep shifting within the story. It will take some time for the readers to get used to it. I am happy I was able to finish the book despite these challenges. For somebody outside the culture, so much of it was shocking. It also felt close to the truth about the situation of people who are struggling with addictions. The story is heartbreaking and will leave a permanent mark on the reader, that is for sure. The characters and their roles felt human, and the vulnerability each of them exhibited versus the need for survival made them what they are. I found this story to be quite fascinating and gripping in its storytelling.

Overall, the imagery, the language, the desperation, and the desolation that is at the center of this novel leaves me speechless. The vivid descriptions of Glasgow in the 80s will be staying in my memory forever bringing to life the glamorous and the ever self-destructive Agnes Taylor and her meticulously dressed, posh-speaking Shuggie Bain, who was a breath of fresh air with his innocence. I gave this book 4.5 stars, and highly recommend reading this extremely devastating and raw portrayal of life at its lowest and the hope rising from the ashes.

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Shuggie Bain


It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. 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. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as 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.

Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride. A counterpart to the privileged Thatcher-era London of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, it also recalls the work of Édouard Louis, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, it is a blistering debut by a brilliant novelist with a powerful and important story to tell.

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