Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

ebook, 448 pages
Expected publication: February 21st 2020 by Grove Press
About the Book:
Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings. Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a philandering taxi-driver husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good—her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamourous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion’s share of each week’s benefits—all the family has to live on—on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. Agnes’s older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to care for her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Shuggie is meanwhile struggling to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that he is “no right,” a boy with a secret that all but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her—even her beloved Shuggie.

It wasn’t fair, the way everyone could up and leave as they pleased.

Like all great literature, Shuggie Bain is about more than it seems. Yes, it is about Scotland, poverty, alcoholism and sexually coming of age. But what it is essentially and magnificently about is the glory of words, language, stories, the stuff we all carry in our minds to make life bearable. It is also about the best and the worst intentions of a benighted parent and how their alcoholism keeps her (and in part, her family) poor, docile, stupid and accepting of her miserable lot in life. I was enthralled from start to finish and I ached so badly for the poor wee man.

Shuggie always rooted for it. But the drink rarely lost.

What a lovely book and warm testament to Douglas Stuart's strength. It must have taken Mr. Stuart great courage to be able to write such a personal and devastating true to life story. I congratulate him and commend him. Writing this book must have been very therapeutic for him and a great emotional relief. A brilliant, life-affirming work. I wish I could give it ten stars!

Thank you NetGalley, Douglas Stuart, and Grove Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an impartial review; all opinions are my own.

#ShuggieBain #NetGalley


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