London : Picador 2020 ; Nueva York : Grove Press , 2020
ISBN 978-1-5290-1928-5 ; 978-0-8021-4850-6
In the opening pages of the book we meet Shuggie Bain, a 16-year-old boy who’s living alone in an underheated rented room in the suburbs of Glasgow. He works at the supermarket to maintain himself and tries to finish secondary school. It’s clear he’s completely on his own. We can’t help but ask ourselves what lead him to this situation. How did he end up all alone?
We get the answer to these questions on the following pages. Stepping back in time, the author describes Shuggie’s childhood with a single alcoholic mother, the bullying he suffered because of being gay and lack of any perspectives and any external help.
The story is inspired by Stuart’s own experiences, but he’s very clear when he explains the book is all fiction.
It’s a tough story about broken dreams, broken futures and broken promises. The disillusionment of the working class is palpable throughout the pages. It’s a heartbreaking coming-of-age novel where the focus is more on the boy’s mother than on himself, but that is only logical since she’s all he thinks about all the time. Prematurely grown up, Shuggie takes on responsibilities that no child should be ever forced to face.
Below you have some questions that we are considering at our Donostia Book Club meeting on May, 7th:
- The author uses Scottish dialect throughout the novel. What does this add to the narrative, and how did you find reading it if you weren’t familiar with some of the words? - What is it about Shuggie that so many characters consider "not right"? - What role does alcoholism play in Shuggie Bain? - What is the significance of poverty in Shuggie Bain? - What, if any, hope is there for Agnes to quit drinking? - Agnes is obsessed with keeping up appearances, even when her handbag is full of cans of Special Brew. How did this facade of respectability work to alienate her from her friends and neighbours? - SPOILER: Shuggie has two older siblings who eventually escape their dysfunctional mother - how do you feel about them leaving Shuggie behind? Was it their responsibility to protect him or were they right to try to save themselves? - SPOILER: Why does Shuggie let Agnes die?