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What this year’s Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart’s novel ‘Shuggie Bain’ is about

Early this September, four debut novelists were shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 for best English-language fiction — Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar, Diane Cook for The New Wilderness, Brandon Taylor for Real Life, and Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain. Now we finally have a winner — Douglas Stuart. Shuggie Bain was also the finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.

What is Shuggie Bain about?

Shuggie Bain takes us back to the Thatcher-era Glasglow, Scotland, in the 1980s, where writer Douglas Stuart grew up. It is about a boy’s challenging yet intimate relationship with his alcoholic mother, who slowly descends into despair after the breakdown of her marriage. The boy, Shuggie, is the youngest of three children who helps his mother, Agnes, deal with her struggles while juggling his personal problems. 

The novel reads seamlessly but with a few chokes between periods and ellipses here and there, which only make you want to pause and picture the characters till they seep in as every classic does. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a sad read. The book also frames love in the face of hate and anger beautifully, which is something very difficult to excel at in a debut attempt. It explores themes like poverty, addiction, and the unconditional yet often tested love between troubled parents and their children. 

Stuart has dedicated this novel to his mother, whom he lost at the age of 16. He said after his win that “for 30 years I’ve carried a lot of loss and love and pain, so I wanted to say what it is like… to write this has been hugely cathartic”.

Who is Douglas Stuart?

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Stuart studied at the Scottish College of Textiles and has a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Moving to New York City at the age of 24 to work in fashion design, he has worked with brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic. Stuart started writing on the side, and Shuggie Bain is his first published work; it has been reported that the book was rejected by 30 editors before being picked up by Grove Atlantic in the US and Picador in the UK. The author has revealed that he has has finished writing his second novel, Loch Awe, also set in Glasgow.

Get your copy of Shuggie Bain here

Harleen Kalsi
Senior Editor
Harleen feeds off her nomadic spirit and incessant shenanigans on the road to stay alive. When not writing, she is busy searching for a good read/art/act.