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Shuggie Bain

Shuggie Bain

A Novel

Book - 2020
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"Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher's war on heavy industry has 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 his artistic brother and practical sister. 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 "whoremaster" of a 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 look after her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. He is meanwhile doing all he can to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that Shuggie is "no right," and now Agnes's addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her-even and especially her beloved Shuggie." -- From publisher's description.
Publisher: New York :, Grove Press,, 2020
Edition: First edition, First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9780802148049
Characteristics: 430 pages ; 24 cm


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Mar 10, 2021

If the dark and drear is to your taste, here is a great wallow. By page 73, life was too short for this dystopia.

Mar 07, 2021

This is the bleak and harrowing story of Shuggie, his two older siblings, and his mother Agnes. Agnes is a beautiful and proud woman, and a horrific alcoholic. Very dark and gritty, but there is so much love and humanity under the grim layers. Truly devastating, brutally authentic, and an astonishing debut.

Jan 10, 2021

"This richly told coming-of-age story, set in the deprived Glasgow of the 1980s, won this year’s Booker prize. Though the title character charms with his humorous sideways look at the world, the emotional centre of the book is his “disintegrating mother,” Agnes, whose high hopes are tragically derailed by alcoholism." (Economist Books of the Year 2020)

Nov 19, 2020

This won the prestigious Booker Award today! CONGRATS!

Nov 19, 2020

The poignant and colourful tale of a family's struggle to survive their mother's alcoholism in nineteen-eighties Glasgow. Full of humor and hunger - for food, booze and love. Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize!

Oct 25, 2020

The Heart's Invisible Furies meets Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland meets A Little Life in Douglas Stuart's prize-listed debut novel. This book felt like a rainy Glasgow day, a damp that will never lift.

Like another Goodreads reviewer stated, it would make more sense for this book to be titled Agnes Bain. Yes, we observe Agnes's destructive behavior through the lens of her son Shuggie's dysfunctional and undernourished childhood. But more than that, we learn of Agnes's empty relationships, constant temptations, and crippling loneliness that fuels her addiction.

Oct 16, 2020

A debut in a class by itself and a must-read.

Shuggie's (=Stuart's) story reminds me in some ways of Ignatius J. Reilly in The Confederacy of Dunces. Of course is in his 30s, and wee Shuggie is still small, but their voices are at once funny and heartbreaking. And both are compassionate sons who find themselves trapped.

Wanting to read more of Douglas Stuart, I read his "Found Wanting" in The New Yorker: This short story is also about a young gay man (similar to Shuggie, but a bit older) who has not yet come out, but who nevertheless is trying to find love in the closeted Glasgow of the 80s. To me, this story was very unremarkable. Both "Found Wanting" and Shuggie Bain are autobiographical fiction; one, a "sketch" (in the author's words), the other, a longer study. But sketches can be remarkable pieces of art, and the the short work does not light a candle to the (uniformly) outstanding execution in Shuggie Bain.

Aug 05, 2020

Stuart, a true storyteller, shares the life of a struggling Glasgow family ripe with struggles of alcoholism, poverty, and identity. Its told through the eyes of an innocent child torn between what is true and loyalty to family, It's deep, sad, and endearing. The story wraps around you and carries you to the end.

Mar 08, 2020

Agnes Bain may be the most memorable drunk in literature. Living in Glasgow Scotland during the 1980’s, she leaves her first husband who seems to be a solid, respectable person with whom she had two children. She leaves him for a philandering taxi driver whose activities aren’t that much different than hers. With Shug Bain she has a third child, Shuggie. Shug moves the family from his mother-in-law’s apartment to god-forsaken council housing in an area where Maggie Thatcher has been closing the coal mines. Shug leaves Agnes and the three kids there and returns to Glasgow where he shacks up with his mistress. You really can’t blame him, Agnes is soused most of the time. The two older kids are nearly adult and manage to make their way forward, but poor little Shuggie, is stuck with his mom, the mean kids in the council housing who instantly pick up on his feminine ways and pick on him continually. Worth reading, this is one of the saddest books I’ve read in a long time. Glasgow has lost its appeal after reading about their slums. This is not a book that makes you want to visit. If you want a cheerful middle-class book about Scotland read something by Alexander McCall Smith, although it seems like the residents around 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh aren’t that impressed by Glasgow either.


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