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Booker Shortlist 2020: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


The winner – well it fits with most of 2020.

The judges viewpoint: 1981. Glasgow. The city is dying. Poverty is on the rise. People watch the lives they had hoped for disappear from view. Agnes Bain had always expected more. She dreamed of greater things: a house with its own front door, a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect – but false – teeth). When her philandering husband leaves, she and her three children find themselves trapped in a mining town decimated by Thatcherism. As Agnes increasingly turns to alcohol for comfort, her children try their best to save her. Yet one by one they have to abandon her in order to save themselves.

It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. But Shuggie has problems of his own: despite all his efforts to pass as a ‘normal boy’, everyone has decided that Shuggie is ‘no right’. Agnes wants to support and protect her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her, including her beloved Shuggie.

Laying bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride, Shuggie Bain is a blistering and heartbreaking debut, and an exploration of the unsinkable love that only children can have for their damaged parents.

Book Worm’s Thoughts:  A bleak book on the Booker Shortlist who would have believed it?
Why this could win: While this is bleak it is very well written and authentic feeling. The portrait of Agnes and how her life spirals out of control is powerful and there are some lighter moments.
Why it might not win: 2020 is bleak enough the judges may decide we need some lighter reading to look forward to.

Anita’s Thoughts:  For me, this book needed a better edit.  The raw material for a wow was all there, but the pacing was off and for me, that blunted the emotional impact.
Why this could win: Strong, sympathetic protagonist and truly excellent dialogue.
Why it might not win:  It never really was uplifting, and it’s so memoir like that it didn’t feel fresh either.

Nicole’s Thoughts:   Just too depressing for me.  Alcoholism is child abuse.
Why this could win:  Strong debut, tugs the heart-strings.
Why it might not win:  Just too damned depressing.

Tracy’s Thoughts:  One of my top two on the shortlist. Though Shuggie’s life sucked, he was determined to find the good, and I fell hard for him – I wanted to adopt the poor kid. I will be very happy if this one wins.

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