Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain is a beautiful, yet tragic narrative of a family fallen on hard times. The story focuses strongly on Agnes Bain and her relationship with her youngest son, Shuggie. Though the story is mostly based in Glasgow during the 1980s, the first chapter gives us a glimpse of a 15-year-old Shuggie. Alone with no parents in the picture, Shuggie is working a job he obviously hates to pay the rent for a room in a Glasgow South Side boarding house. It appears to be a miserable existence and you begin to question how did this occur?

From the glimpse of the teenage Shuggie, we move back in time to 1981 Glasgow.

Anges Bain always wanted more from life. She wanted a house of her own with a front door and the interior filled with items straight out of the Freemans Catalogue. Married to a philandering husband, with three children and living with her parents was not what Anges expected. Alcohol became the vice that provided her with the strength to cope with her dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The adoration that Shuggie feels for his mother is apparent even as a young child. Shuggie wants his mother to be happy and would do anything to make her smile.  

When her husband proposes a new start in a nearby mining town called Pithead, Agnes felt that her dreams were coming true. She would have a house of her own and her marriage could be renewed by distancing her husband from his extramarital activities. Unfortunately, the town was devastated by Thatcher-era politics, poverty was prevalent, and Agnes’s husband left her as he was unable to cope with her alcohol addiction. Agnes’s two older children exhausted by trying to save her eventually leave to protect themselves, until Shuggie is the last one left. Shuggie is struggling to support his mother through her addiction while attempting to grow-up as what society considers to be a “normal boy”. 

The story of Shuggie Bain replays heavily in your mind even after you turn the last page. Douglas Stuart explores the themes of the limitless love that children have for their addicted parents and a young LGBQTI man’s coming of age in a time where his preferences were not accepted. Despite the book being quite dark and sometimes even depressing, you feel that there are glimmers of hope and that the family will get through this.

Douglas Stuart’s debut novel, Shuggie Bain was the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize.


Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
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