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Book Review: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

on 1 July 2021 0

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, reviewed by Keira Brown, co-producer of the Paisley Book Festival.


Shuggie Bain, the Booker Prize-winning novel from Douglas Stuart, is a well-crafted joy of a read that embeds characters in your mind that prove almost impossible to shake.

All the while, managing to convey the energy of areas of Glasgow and render them as central to the novel as Agnes and the titular Shuggie themselves.

A surprising debut, Stuart’s maiden voyage into novels is a complex tale that considers an era of central belt life long since gone by, with addiction, sexuality, scorn and torment all residing at the heart and making Shuggie Bain into a classic page-turner.

Set in the 1980s in Glasgow, the novel spans over a decade in which we get to intimately know young Shuggie and his mother.

We are first introduced to Shuggie when he is five or six as we’re drawn into his tenuous held together family and the complex dynamics that they maintain.

However, the majority of the novel revolves around the relationship between Shuggie and his mother, and at points I often ask why this was not titled Agnes Bain, with certainly the first half focused on her life.

Agnes struggles with alcohol addiction and throughout the spanning years that we get acquainted, we learn that she is a fighter with a belief in adorning herself in the more opulent garments in life.

Here, Stuart’s storied career in fashion manifests through the description of her clothing, the prose decadent and rich with detail.

Evocative with themes of hardship, struggle, poverty, squalor and yet, wonder and hope and love, there is much to explore in Shuggie Bain.

It’s a tale of heart and warmth and love, and for that, it’s a beauty of a read, and one you will battle to put down once you’ve begun.

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