WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
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 glamorous 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.
A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction. Recalling the work of Édouard Louis, Alan Hollinghurst, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, it is a blistering debut by a brilliant novelist who has a powerful and important story to tell.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Douglas Stuart’s raw debut transports us to 1980s Glasgow, taking us on a journey that’s both bleak and lit up with a deep sense of empathy. In a time and place defined by decay and despair, Hugh “Shuggie” Bain is a sensitive boy trying to navigate the dual trials of adolescence and family instability, most painfully his beloved mother Agnes’ chronic alcoholism. Gritty and disturbing, Shuggie Bain paints a portrait of Thatcher-era Scotland that’s far from lighthearted. Still, the novel’s hero—and his story of surviving against all odds—makes for an unforgettable read.
Stuart's harrowing debut follows a family ravaged by addiction in Glasgow during the Thatcher era. Agnes Bain yearns to move Shug, her taxi-driving, "selfish animal" of a second husband, and three children out of the tiny apartment they share with her parents in Glasgow in 1981. Shug secures them a council flat, but when they arrive he leaves them in a flurry of violence, blaming Agnes's drinking. While Agnes's daughter, Catherine, escapes the misery of Agnes's alcoholism and the family's extreme poverty by finding a husband, and her older son, Leek, retreats into making art, Hugh (nicknamed "Shuggie" after his absent father) assumes responsibility for Agnes's safety and happiness. As the years pass, Shuggie suffers cruelty over his effeminate personality and endures sexual violence. He eventually accepts that he's gay; meanwhile, Agnes finds some hope by entering A.A., landing a job, and dating another taxi driver named Eugene, but she later backslides. As Shuggie and his mother attempt to improve their lives, they are bound not just by one another but also to the U.K.'s dire economic conditions. While the languid pace could have benefited from condensing, there are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness. This bleak if overlong book will resonate with readers.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Such great writing. Very vividly written.
Profoundly moving book and very hard to put down. I read it using iBooks and was glad for the ability to reach over in the middle of the night to check in on poor Shuggie. Closing the last page today, I feel like I have lived another life. My world is bigger and I am a more empathic person today than I was 2 weeks ago.