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ARC Book Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Title: Shuggie Bain

Author: Douglas Stuart

Length: 448 pages

Publisher: Picador

Synopsis: It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from her life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one the must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as not right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

This book was so immersive. I forgot about the outside world when I was reading it. I can’t really think of a higher compliment for a book than that. It’s a story of addiction, survival, love and heartbreak. It’s bleak but so beautiful.

The central theme for the novel is the relationship between Shug and his mother. It was so endearing but so heartbreaking. His protection of her, his willingness to look after her. Even when she was so cruel sometimes. He captures working class estates perfectly and I of course loved the queer element to this novel. There’s a subtly to it that is unbelievably powerful. There was an intensity to this whole novel and I haven’t read a book like that in a long time.

Shuggie Bain is full of Brilliant, brilliant characters. Anges, her addiction problem was heartbreaking. I was willing her to get better. Shug, everytime someone said to him ‘be like other boys’ it made my heart ached. And leek, who just crumbled under his own hurt. They were just all so complex, and intimate. I just felt so connected to them. They felt so real. I know I won’t forget these characters for a long time. Each of them will break your heart in their own way as the fight for the life they want and they life they are desperate to get away from. They are the shining force in this brilliant novel.

This story was taken to another level with the beautiful, powerful writing from Douglas Stuart. He somehow manages to capture an intimate relationship between mother and son, and capture the feeling of a place and time and blend them all together seamlessly. His writing has such depth. The descriptions of people and place are so good.It’s brilliant writing. It really is.

The ending, I cried. I had to. I don’t want to say to much a ruin it. It was heartbreaking, yet there was this sense of freedom. I don’t even know how to explain it. You’ll just have to read it for yourself and find out.

This book has just been shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 and I’m not surprised at all. It’s a powerful book.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot of this book around. It’s going to be on a lot of people tbr piles and I don’t blame them. It’s just that good. I see a few prizes in the future for this book.

Thanks to Picador for a copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review. It’s out August 6th.

Until the next review

JTH

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