Title: Shuggie Bain

Author: Douglas Stuart

Published: February 2020

Genres: Historical Fiction, Scotland, Coming-of-age, LGBT




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.”


TAY'S REVIEW  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This work of fiction did not hold back. It was vulgar, tragic, unflinching and deserving of just about every content warning imaginable. It’s a coming-of-age novel, set in Glasgow in the 1980’s “Thatcher era”, that intensely explored what it is like to live as a child of an alcoholic parent in a broken household. Stuart took remarkable care in layering each character with nuance and context, so that their actions fed into a story of intergenerational disposition, ultimately presenting a message that we are the product of our upbringing. The writing was first class, though crude at times, given the Glasgow dialect. I do wish there was more of a balanced focus between Shuggie and his mother Agnes; though relevant, I found Agnes’ storyline overbearing and would have loved more exposure to Shuggie’s internal dialogue, given the title. The beauty of this book comes only when you can uncover the small moments of love and hope Stuart buried deep under its ugly story.



From the onset, I knew this wasn’t going to be a light read, but it was up there with some of the heaviest for me. But I am by no means taking away from the intimate, moving book it was. The coming of age story of downtrodden Shuggie Bain and his addict mother Agnes in public housing Glasgow is beyond bleak. With a childhood riddled with poverty and deprivation, this was a painful depiction of when the path paved for us can be brutal by no fault of our own. The character of Shuggie was admirable, and each time Agnes broke his heart, I too felt defeated. Overall, I did not connect in the way I had hoped, and it lost me in parts. Perhaps this was due to excessive nuance and that the focus at times strayed too far from Shuggie, and overly descriptive prose. But it would never be too long before I was engrossed again in a longing for a happy ending.



Alcohol, drug, domestic & sexual abuse, rape, pedophilia, suicide, homophobia & homophobic slurs



“She had loved him, and he had needed to break her completely to leave her for good. Agnes Bain was too rare a thing to let someone else love. It wouldn't do to leave pieces of her for another man to collect and repair later.”



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published