Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart has won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for the autobiographical novel Shuggie Bain.
The NYT reports: “Early responses from editors were equally discouraging: More than 30 publishers rejected the book. He finally sold it to Grove Atlantic, and the novel, ‘Shuggie Bain,’ drew rapturous reviews. The award, which was announced on Thursday, will likely draw a large new audience to the novel, which came out earlier this year.”
The book’s synopsis via Grove/Atlantic:
“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 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 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.”
The Guardian adds: “Upon learning he had won, Stuart tearfully described himself as ‘absolutely stunned’ and thanked his mother, who is ‘on every page of this book – I’ve been clear without her I wouldn’t be here, my work wouldn’t be here’. … Stuart, who has already written his second novel, titled Loch Awe, pointed to Kelman’s Booker winner behind him on his shelves. ‘When James won in the mid-90s, Scottish voices were seen as disruptive and outside the norm. And now to see Shuggie at the centre of it, I can’t express it,’ he said. ‘Young boys like me growing up in 80s Glasgow, this wasn’t ever anything I would have dreamed of.’ He said he would now become a full-time writer, and joked that his winnings would be spent on settling his bet with his husband that he wouldn’t win.”
Judges Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay, Emily Wilson and chair of The Booker Prize judges, Margaret Busby, spoke out about the book in an announcement video: