Earlier today I sat out on our decking and finished reading "Shuggie Bain" by Douglas Stuart. This earthy novel was last year's Booker Prize winner. It was a book that I really warmed to as I kept turning the pages. The strapline on the front cover reads, "A novel of rare and lasting beauty" and I must admit that at first I could find little to support that claim but by the end I could see where "The Observer" reviewer was coming from.
Set in the mean streets of Glasgow, the novel is semi-autobiographical. Hugh Bain, known universally as Shuggie, is an effeminate boy who loves his mother Agnes fiercely in spite of her alcoholism and the many issues that this causes. Life is hard. There's rarely any food in the cupboard and Agnes is seldom at peace with herself, her relations or her community. It is as if Shuggie has to constantly walk on eggshells.
The dialogue successfully captures the rough voice of working class Glasgow as once proud industries have declined. There are pubs and cigarettes, electricity meters to prise open, violent rows to be had, bingo halls and betting shops to visit, cans of strong lager to be hidden. Of course such a life is especially challenging for an intelligent boy who is confused about his sexuality, only gradually realising that he is gay.
To give you a feeling for the language of the novel, here are a couple of extracts. This is the voice of one of Agnes's male friends - Eugene:-
“Ah have been lonely fur years now. Lonely long afore ma wife died. Don't get us wrong. She was a guid wummin, a guid wummin just like our Colleen, but we were jist stuck in our wee routine. When ye think about it, ah've been under the ground most of ma life. There wasn't much in me for sharing at the end of a day. After twenty years, what do you talk about? But she was a guid wummin. She used to make me these big hot dinners, with meat and gravy, the plate scalding hot cos she'd warm it up all day in the oven. We ate big hot dinners because we had nothing left to say. Nothing worthwhile anyway. Ah'm forty-three. That's four years older than when ma father died, so I should've been done. I should've been retiring from the pits, living the rest of ma days out with her and with nothing to say. When I saw ye I wasn't looking. I didn't know of you then, hadn't heard our Colleen lift your name. That's wummin's stuff, isn't it? They don't talk to the men about that. Gossip. Telling tales. Chapel. That's their club. All I know is when I saw you sat behind that glass, I saw someone lonely too, and I hoped we might have something to say to each other. I realised then. Ah don't want to be done.”
And this is a short glimpse into what Shuggie's mother Agnes was like:-
“She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”
In the end I was very glad that I decided to read "Shuggie Bain". Its author, Douglas Stuart, now lives in New York City where he has worked for several years as a fashion designer.
At my Scottish university I had a friend from Kilmarnock called Hugh Lynch. We all knew him as Shuggie. Co-incidentally, because of alcohol, his life spiralled out of control and he died in Glasgow in the mid-eighties. Another tragic waste of a life .
My final point is about proof reading. I found several grammatical errors in this much lauded novel. For example "retch" - as in vomiting - was written more than once as "wretch". Perhaps publishers place too much store in computerised spell checking software these days or employ proof readers who no longer have an eye for close detail.
That's a very good review of a book I have already read. I didn't notice the errors but I read it with my e-reader and perhaps they had been corrected by then. The book is helped by the knowledge that Shuggie did rise above his disadvantages.ReplyDelete
Despite the odds stacked against him, he climbed out of that trench. Perhaps that is Douglas Stuart's next novel Andrew!Delete
I've thought about recommending this book for my Book Club, but it sounds very dark. We've read many heavy novels lately and need to find something lighter. That's difficult to do and keep it literary and discussable. (is that a word?) My dad's dad was Scottish and had Glasgow roots. A tough town.ReplyDelete
How about "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt? Set in Limerick, Ireland and filled with treasure.Delete
We read that one a long time ago. It was an excellent read and discussion.Delete
You and Weaver both...guess I will have to read this book.ReplyDelete
I warn you - just in terms of language it will be challenging for a Penn State gal.Delete
Thank you for the book review. I just bought the kindle version. I've been on a Hemingway binge so this will be a change.ReplyDelete
It will be a change and a challenge too because of the language.Delete
My granny was Scottish so I expect I'll manage.Delete
I admire the strength of Shuggies mother. It's good to see the working class characters warts and all. It reminds me of 'Trainspotting'. I found 'Angela's Ashes' very sad and disturbing but incredibly well written.ReplyDelete
I was enthralled by "Angela's Ashes" when I read it. Of course it was also semi-autobiographical. I also enjoyed "Trainspotting". We have similar tastes Dave.Delete
I use to know someone who knew Frank McCourt's brother Malachi in New York. Malachi is famous too and wrote books. Frank was a teacher like your good self YP.Delete
I loved the book "When I came home by George Brinley Evans. A beautiful snapshot of time and place and people gone. The closing paragraphs brought tears to my eyes.Delete
I like gritty novels, but I found this one way too depressing. Wish I hadn't read it.ReplyDelete
You wish you hadn't read it and I am glad I did read it. There's the difference.Delete
I haven't read this one but you have whetted my appetite. I am a west coaster even though I live on the east coast now so am used to the language. I recently read the comedian Janey Godley's autobiography Handstands in the Dark, set in Glasgow, a very interesting read though dark in places.ReplyDelete
I doubt that life in the kingdom of Fife is the same as life in the housing schemes of Glasgow. I hope you also appreciate "Shuggie Bain" Jo.Delete
It sounds like it will be a good read, but one that I think I'll put off until I am in a less stressed frame of mind.ReplyDelete
May I recommend "Tales from Moominvalley" by Tove Jansson?Delete
That one looks too difficult for me YP.Delete
I've had this one on my mental list for a while.ReplyDelete
"Earn money as a proofreader." Well, someone I know did, but didn't earn much, and was given some unbelievably poor stuff to read.
In my eyes mistakes rise up out of printed material like dolphins breaking the surface of the sea.Delete
My 72 year old Glaswegian friend loved this book. Echoes of her husband's childhood. I'm waiting for her to finish reading it for the second time and pass it on to me.ReplyDelete
Be patient with some of the Glaswegian dialect. You might have to phone your friend for assistance!Delete
I found this book to be incredibly powerful and so well written. I hoe we see more from this writer.ReplyDelete
It may be that this was the novel he had to write because it was his own life story. What's next after that?Delete
It reminds me of Angela's Ashes so I think I'll pass on it. Angela's Ashes just left me angry at the parents and the poverty. I know we all do our best but I hate seeing what alcoholism does to children, hits too close to home.ReplyDelete
There are some parallels. People rising above the surface in spite of the odds stacked against them. Life on the edge.Delete
Haw you listen Pal oor streets are no mean Ah'd sub ye twa crisp tenners charge ye the same interest rate as ye scunners in the Bank o' Scotland only kiddin Big Man dae ye ever read that Zadie Smith she's gorgeous by the way see tae be a young guy thi day wi a' that Young Pussy aroond must be Shaggers Paradise maybe see at the Glesca Fair if Ah'm doon your way Sheffield must be sum place man Ah love your beer some of your Wimmin arenae bad either.ReplyDelete
I put this comment through Google Translate but all I got back was "Will Not Compute. Will not Compute..."Delete
I will keep my eyes out for this one. Thank you.ReplyDelete
You are welcome.Delete
I have this sitting in my "to read" pile right now!ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy it.Delete
Though I'm not keen on books with bad language, I'll wait until it's offered at 99p on Amazon, and buy it to read on my Kindle. Having had Scottish in-laws, hopefully some of the phraseology won't be too alien.ReplyDelete
Years ago I read "Angela's Ashes" - it was recommended as a must read, but although well written, I found it rather depressing. When I'd read it, I wondered why I'd bothered to plough my way through it.
Surprised that was your reaction to "Angela's Ashes". I loved it and thought it was a celebration of life. It was one of those books I just could not put down. Sometimes our responses to works of fiction are greatly affected by the moods we are in when we read them - the point we are in our lives. Mind you, I have always been drawn to novels about the poor and the dispossessed - including "The Grapes of Wrath", "A Kestrel for a Knave", "Oliver Twist" and "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". I guess that "Shuggie Bain" falls into this same category.Delete