Shuggie Bain - Reading Guide
A guide to Douglas Stuart’s moving and compassionate 2020 Booker-winning novel about the unequal struggle between addiction and a child’s love
Douglas Stuart’s blistering and heartbreaking debut is an exploration of the unsinkable love that only children can have for their damaged parents.
1981, Glasgow. The city is dying. Poverty is on the rise. When her philandering husband walks out, leaving her with three children, Agnes turns to alcohol for comfort. The children try their best to save her. Yet one by one they have to abandon her in order to save themselves. Shuggie still holds out hope. But Shuggie has problems of his own, despite all his efforts to pass as ‘normal’. Agnes wants to protect her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everything. And everyone.
When I was writing the book I didn't tell anyone I was trying to write it because I wanted it to be an incredibly personal project
The characters in Shuggie Bain couldn’t exist anywhere else; Glasgow is as much in their blood as it is in mine
The pandemic meant that Douglas Stuart was at home in New York when he was announced as the winner for his debut novel Shuggie Bain.
The author and the other shortlistees took part in the virtual ceremony, which also included a message from President Barack Obama.
In a post-win interview, Stuart said: ‘I grew up in Glasgow, in the 1980s, which was an incredibly tough time for a lot of people there. And my mother, unfortunately, suffered with addiction, and she didn’t survive that addiction: she died when I was still a child.
‘And so for thirty years I’ve carried a lot of loss and love and pain, and I wanted really just to tell the story of what it was like to grow up queer in Glasgow with a parent who you loved but you couldn’t save, and Shuggie is a work of fiction, it is, but writing the book was incredibly healing for me. I think men from the West Coast of Scotland are not ever expected to be able to express their feelings, or their finer feelings, and so art is a great receptacle for that. And to be able to connect with people and to ask for empathy from readers - and they’ve really given it - has been just hugely cathartic.’
Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic — a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values— Margaret Busby, chair of the Booker Prize judges 2020