Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart: ‘will please you on every page’
Follow-up to Shuggie Bain is a ‘richly abundant’ work
Douglas Stuart’s debut, Shuggie Bain – the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize – was a “bleak autobiographical novel about a young boy caring for his alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow”, said Johanna Thomas-Corr in The Sunday Times. His follow-up is “cut from the same cloth”.
Fifteen-year-old Mungo lives with his mother and two older siblings in Glasgow’s East End. “His brother, Hamish, is a Faginesque Protestant gang leader; his sister, Jodie, is a do-gooding fallen angel; and their mother, Mo-Maw, is a woman ruined by alcohol.” As the novel opens, Mungo is shooed off by his mother on a fishing trip with two menacing strangers from her Alcoholics Anonymous group, who promise to teach him “masculine pursuits”.
Interspersed with this “gruesome excursion” are chapters set a few months earlier, detailing Mungo’s first love affair, with a Catholic neighbour called James. Although this “alternating timeline” feels forced at times, this is still a “richly abundant” work packed with fine writing and “colourful characters”.
It may be felt – with some justification – that Stuart has written the same book twice, said Nikhil Krishnan in The Daily Telegraph. Yet he “makes small differences count”. Because Mungo is older than Shuggie, he is able to see in his sexuality “not just a source of difference and alienation, but a possible route to escape and emancipation”. And Stuart widens his focus beyond family life, taking in the “Jets and Sharks world” of Glasgow’s sectarian politics.
Like its predecessor, this “bear hug of a new novel” has a “yeasty whiff of the autobiographical” about it, said Hillary Kelly in the Los Angeles Times. If you adored Shuggie Bain, this book “will please you on every page”.
Picador 400pp £16.99; The Week bookshop £13.99
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