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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Shuggie Bain:

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
New York Times Bestseller
Finalist for the National Book Award
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
Shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Breakthrough Author Award
Named a Best Book of the Year by the
Los Angeles Times, NPR, TIME, BuzzFeed, the Economist, the Times (UK), the Independent (UK), the Daily Telegraph (UK), Barnes & Noble, Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, and the Washington Independent Review of Books

“We were bowled over by this first novel, which creates an amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love. The book gives a vivid glimpse of a marginalized, impoverished community in a bygone era of British history. It’s a desperately sad, almost-hopeful examination of family and the destructive powers of desire.”—Booker Prize Judges

“This year’s breakout debut . . . It has drawn comparisons to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Frank McCourt.”—Alexandra Alter, New York Times

“The body—especially the body in pain—blazes on the pages of Shuggie Bain . . . This is the world of Shuggie Bain, a little boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s. And this is the world of Agnes Bain, his glamorous, calamitous mother, drinking herself ever so slowly to death. The wonder is how crazily, improbably alive it all is . . . The book would be just about unbearable were it not for the author’s astonishing capacity for love. He’s lovely, Douglas Stuart, fierce and loving and lovely. He shows us lots of monstrous behavior, but not a single monster—only damage. If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains . . . The book leaves us gutted and marveling: Life may be short, but it takes forever.”—Leah Hager Cohen, New York Times Book Review

“A debut novel that reads like a masterpiece.”—Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post

“A novel that cracks open the human heart, brings you inside, tears you up, and brings you up, with its episodes of unvarnished love, loss, survival and sorrow.”—Scott Simon, NPR’s “Weekend Edition”

“Agnes Bain [is] the unforgettable human train wreck at the center of Douglas Stuart’s novel Shuggie Bain . . . Titling the novel after Shuggie rather than the woman who dominates him seems like a small gesture of defiance on Mr. Stuart’s part . . . Mr. Stuart vividly inhabits the city’s singular ‘Weegie’ dialect and vocabulary . . . It’s the obstinate Bain pride that prevents this novel from becoming a wallow in victimhood and gives it its ruined dignity.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“The domestic spaces, the blighted landscape, the meanness of people, the bullying at school, the constant threat of violence, all add up to a picture of misery. Against this, however, there is an undercurrent that becomes more and more powerful, as Stuart, with great subtlety, builds up an aura of tenderness in the relationship between helpless Shuggie and his even more helpless mother . . . By drawing Agnes and Shuggie with so much texture, he makes clear that neither mother nor son can be easily seen as a victim. Instead, they emerge forcefully; they are fully, palpably present.”—Colm Tóibín, Bookforum

“Astonishingly good, one of the most moving novels in recent memory.”—Hillary Kelly, Los Angeles Times

“The tough portraits of Glaswegian working-class life from William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Agnes Owens can be felt in Shuggie Bain without either overshadowing or unbalancing the novel . . . Stuart’s capacity for allowing wild contradictions to convincingly coexist is also on display in the individual vignettes that comprise the novel, blending the tragic with the funny, the unsparing with the tender, the compassionate with the excruciating. He can even pull off all of them in a single sentence . . . This overwhelmingly vivid novel is not just an accomplished debut. It also feels like a moving act of filial reverence.”—James Walton, New York Review of Books

“Rarely does a debut novel establish its world with such sure-footedness, and Stuart’s prose is lithe, lyrical, and full of revelatory descriptive insights . . . Reading Shuggie Bain entails a kind of archaeology, sifting through the rubble of the lives presented to find gems of consolation, brief sublime moments when the characters slip the bonds of their hardscrabble existence. That the book is never dismal or maudlin, notwithstanding its subject matter, is down to the buoyant life of its two principal characters, the heart and humanity with which they are described. Douglas Stuart has written a first novel of rare and lasting beauty.”—Alex Preston, Guardian

“Douglas Stuart drags us through the 1980s childhood of ‘a soft boy in a hard world’ in a series of vivid, effective scenes . . . Shuggie Bain is a novel that aims for the heart and finds it. As a novel it’s good, as a debut very good, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it progress from Booker longlist to shortlist.”—John Self, Times (UK)

“Not only does [Stuart] clearly know his characters, he clearly loves them . . . Stuart describes their life with compassion and a keen ear for language . . . Such is Stuart’s talent that this painful, sometimes excruciating story is often quite beautiful.”—Barbara Lane, San Francisco Chronicle

Shuggie Bain is Douglas Stuart’s first novel, as intense and excruciating to read as any novel I have ever held in my hand . . . This novel is as much about Glasgow as it is about Shuggie and his impossible mother . . . The book’s evocative power arises out of the author’s talent for conjuring a place, a time, and the texture of emotion, and out of its language which is strewn with a Glaswegian argot sodden with desolation and misery . . . This is a hard, grim book, brilliantly written and, in the end, worth the pain which accompanies reading it.”—Katherine A. Powers, Newsday

“With his exquisitely detailed debut novel, Douglas Stuart has given Glasgow something of what James Joyce gave to Dublin. Every city needs a book like Shuggie Bain, one where the powers of description are so strong you can almost smell the chip-fat and pub-smoke steaming from its pages, and hear the particular, localized slang ringing in your ears . . . It turns over the ugly side of humanity to find the softness and the beauty underneath . . . This beauty, against all odds, survives.”—Eliza Gearty, Jacobin

“An atmospheric epic set in 1980s working-class Glasgow, Shuggie Bain, a debut novel by Douglas Stuart, focuses on the relationship between a mother and son as she battles alcoholism and he grapples with his sexuality. It’s a formidable story, lyrically told, about intimacy, family, and love.”Elle

“A dysfunctional love story—an interdependence whose every attempt to thrive is poisoned whenever a drink is poured—but here, between a boy and his mother. Stuart’s debut stands out for its immersion into working-class Glaswegian life, but what makes his book a worthy contender for the Booker is his portrayal of their bond, together with all its perpetual damage.”—Maria Crawford, Financial Times

“Magnificent . . . Its richly rendered events will give you a lot to talk about.”O Magazine

“This is a panoramic portrait of both a family and a place, and Stuart steeps us fully in the grim decline of the Thatcher years: cheap booze, closed pits and lives lived on tick . . . Tender and unsentimental—a rare trick—and the Billy Elliot-ish character of Shuggie, when he does take the floor, leaps off the page.”—Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

“Terrifically engrossing . . . A cracking coming-of-age story—a survivor’s tale you won’t be able to put down.”—Anthony Cummins, Metro

“A heartbreaking story about identity, addiction, and abandonment.”TIME

“An instant classic. A novel that takes place during the Thatcher years and, in a way, defines it. A novel that explores the underbelly of Scottish society. A novel that digs through the grit and grime of 1980s Glasgow to reveal a story that is at once touching and gripping. Think D.H. Lawrence. Think James Joyce . . . A literary tour de force.”Washington Independent Review of Books

“Douglas’s sharp narrative perspective moves from character to character, depicting each internally and externally with astute grace, giving a complex understanding of the dynamics of the Bain family . . . Shuggie Bain is a master class in depicting the blinding dedications of love and the endless bounds to which people will go to feel in control, to feel better. It hopefully sets the tone for more beautifully devastating works of fiction to follow from Stuart in the future.”Columbia Journal

“Heartfelt and harrowing . . . [A] visceral, emotionally nuanced portrayal of working class Scottish life and its blazingly intimate exploration of a mother-son relationship.”Literary Hub

“The way Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting carved a permanent place in our heads and hearts for the junkies of late-1980s Edinburgh, the language, imagery, and story of fashion designer Stuart’s debut novel apotheosizes the life of the Bain family of Glasgow . . . The emotional truth embodied here will crack you open. You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.”Kirkus Review (starred review)

“Compulsively readable . . . In exquisite detail, the book describes the devastating dysfunction in Shuggie’s family, centering on his mother’s alcoholism and his father’s infidelities, which are skillfully related from a child’s viewpoint . . . As it beautifully and shockingly illustrates how Shuggie ends up alone, this novel offers a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Very highly recommended.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Douglas Stuart’s anxious novel is both a tragedy and a survival story. Shuggie is as neglected as Glasgow, but through his mother’s demise, he discovers his strength. Shuggie Bain celebrates taking charge of one’s own destiny.”Bookpage

“Stuart’s harrowing debut follows a family ravaged by addiction in Glasgow during the Thatcher era . . . There are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness . . . Will resonate with readers.”Publishers Weekly

“There’s no way to fake the life experience that forms the bedrock of Douglas Stuart’s wonderful Shuggie Bain. No way to fake the talent either. Shuggie will knock you sideways.”—Richard Russo, author of Chances Are

“Every now and then a novel comes along that feels necessary and inevitable. I’ll never forget Shuggie and Agnes or the incredibly detailed Glasgow they inhabit. This is the rare contemporary novel that reads like an instant classic. I’ll be thinking and talking about Shuggie Bain—and teaching it—for quite some time.”—Garrard Conley, New York Times-bestselling author of Boy Erased

“A rare and haunting ode to 1980s Glasgow and its struggling communities, Shuggie Bain tells the story of a collapsing family that is lashed together by love alone. Douglas Stuart writes with startling, searing intimacy. I fell hard for these characters; when they have nothing left, they cling maddeningly—irresistibly—to humor, pride and hope.”—Chia-Chia Lin, author of The Unpassing

Shuggie Bain is an intimate and frighteningly acute exploration of a mother-son relationship and a masterful portrait of alcoholism in Scottish working class life, rendered with old-school lyrical realism. Stuart is a writer who genuinely loves his characters and makes them unforgettable and touching even when they're at their worst. He’s also just a beautiful writer; I kept being reminded of Joyce’s Dubliners. I loved this book.”—Sandra Newman, author of The Heavens

“A dark shining work. Raw, formidable, bursting with tenderness and frailty. The effect is remarkable, it will make you cry.”—Karl Geary, author of Montpelier Parade

About the Author

Douglas Stuart was born and raised in Glasgow. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in London, he moved to New York City, where he began a career in fashion design. Shuggie Bain is his first novel.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Grove Press (October 13, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 448 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0802148506
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0802148506
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 15.2 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 9,886 ratings

Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
9,886 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on August 24, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gritty but real
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2020
Shuggie Bain is a story about a family devastated by the effects of poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and other devastating realities that came along with the Thatcher policies enacted in Glasgow in the 1980s.

This was a hard book to get through; it’s subject matter often so grim and shattering that I had to step away for awhile because of how effectively it was portrayed. Well done, Stuart! Did I mention this is the author’s debut novel? Again, I say, well done!
You follow the Bain family from the time that Shuggie is a young child, all the way to his teen years. Seeing the struggles as well as the brief hints of light that shine on them all, but particularly Shuggie and his mother, Agnes.
Between the relationships Agnes has with the men in her life (most of which are far less than healthy) and the all too accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be the child of an alcoholic parent (is the parent the parent, or is the child the parent? Unhealthy bonds and no safe place to call home), it hits hard. This is very much a family and individual character centered story, so if that is your cup of tea then you may want to pick this one up!
I’m not sure what more to say other than that this book really touched on the right places. The writing was real and it was not hard to fall deep into the world, the very true to life world that existed then and in some areas still exists today.

Whilst I do believe this book is going on my “favorites of 2020” list, a few other things should be mentioned:
-The dialect may take awhile to adjust to if you’re not already familiar.
-Content warnings should be given for rape, physical abuse, mental abuse, substance abuse, and gambling.
-Lastly, I would reiterate that this is a dark book and from personal experience would avoid reading it if you are not in a good place mentally.

I was given a copy of this title from Grove Atlantic via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

(And enjoyed it so much I bought myself a copy!)
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Reviewed in the United States on August 28, 2020
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Alysson Oliveira
5.0 out of 5 stars Retrato poderoso de uma infância triste
Reviewed in Brazil on October 6, 2020
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Nilton C. Teixeira
4.0 out of 5 stars Good debut
Reviewed in Canada on February 1, 2021
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VaL
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking but magical
Reviewed in Canada on August 21, 2020
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Barry Buckler
5.0 out of 5 stars Surviving in an Unsympathetic World
Reviewed in Canada on October 21, 2021
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lorraine hunt
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and Real
Reviewed in Canada on April 25, 2020
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