Shuggie Bain

Shuggie Bain

Stuart's Booker Prize-winning debut novel is a gut-punch of a book. Young Shuggie adores his mother, Agnes, and her beauty and glamour captivate those who meet her. But her alcoholism shapes the lives of Shuggie and his older siblings. Shuggie's philandering father eventually abandons them to a derelict public housing scheme outside of Glasgow, where the kids--and Shuggie most of all--try to manage their mother and her binges.

Filled with relentless, gritty poverty, brutality, and addiction, Shuggie Bain is a difficult read. There is hope and love here, but I think many readers found more of those elements than I did. Stuart is a talent, and the rawness of this reminded me of A Little Life. Recommended if a heavy read is right for you, but there are plenty of trigger warnings to be aware of.

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About the Book

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Publisher’s Description

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 glamorous 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.

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Tags: lgbtqia, Scotland
Publication Year: 2021
Length: 448
ASIN: 0802148042
ISBN: 9780802148049
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