Book Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Pic of mother and child in bed is courtesy of Goodreads

This is a powerful story reminding me of the poverty of Angela’s Ashes and the coming of age grief in the book, Honeybee.

The writing alone by this debut author is extraordinary and I can see why it won The Booker Prize in 2020. It’s emotional, tearing at the heart strings as we follow the story of young Shuggie trying to come to grips with who he is as well as survive with his alcoholic mother, Agnes in Thatcher’s 1980’s Scotland.

‘The housing scheme spread out suddenly before them… low roofed houses, square and squat, huddled in neat rows… surrounded by peaty marshland, and to the east the land had been turned inside out, blackened and slagged in the search for coal.’

The descriptions are vivid, dropping the reader into the poverty, alcohol, desperation as a result of political policy’s failure on the ordinary person. Indeed, unemployment was high as a result of the coal mines closing down and the consequences dire.

Stuart himself was raised in such a place with an alcoholic mother who died when he was sixteen and I have no doubt he has dug deep inside to pull out painful memories and experiences to bring us such a powerful book.

Shuggie’s struggle to take on the responsibility of looking after his mother long after his two older siblings have given up is nothing short of heart-breaking. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a hard read at times, relentless as it is in the depressing world Shuggie belongs to. There is no-one to rely on other than himself and his mother and when Agnes eventually seeks help, Shuggie’s joy is tentative waiting for when his mother can no longer resist the bottle.

It’s a book which leaves you reeling and if you’re looking for something light-hearted and uplifting then this one may not be for you. But if you want to immerse yourself into powerful bit of story telling, then check it out.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

  1. Deborah J Briers, Historical Fiction, Fun & Facts

    I often find the Booker Prize winners are a tough read, and I’m not sure why I didn’t read this one – perhaps because the end of 2020-21 was a difficult time for me (as well as most other people) – but I’m tempted to add it to my TBR list now. I’ve just finished reading The Promise which was a really addictive read due to the writing style as there was also a lot of unpleasant subject matter in there as well. (I’ll be reviewing it on my blog shortly.)

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    1. S.C. Karakaltsas Post author

      Totally agree about the Booker. There are some great ones and then there are some that don’t quite hit the mark for me. But I have The Promise and look forward to reading your review as well as the book.

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  2. rose2852

    The dire circumstances of the McCourt family in Angela’s Ashes was periodically relieved by the author’s use of humour. Who could ever forget going upstairs to Italy? Shuggie Bain is unrelentingly depressing and very long at 430 pages. I found nothing I could salvage from it.

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