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EXCLUSIVE | Douglas Stuart speaks to Eusebius about ‘Young Mungo’


Eusebius on TimesLIVE

EXCLUSIVE | Douglas Stuart speaks to Eusebius about ‘Young Mungo’

The award-winning author’s book focuses on working-class communities in 1980s, 1990s Glasgow and Britain

Contributor and analyst
'Young Mungo', by Douglas Stuart, is published by Picador.
'Young Mungo', by Douglas Stuart, is published by Picador.
Image: Supplied

The 2020 Booker Prize winner, Douglas Stuart, spoke to Eusebius McKaiser about his sensational second novel, Young Mungo. Stuart became an international writing sensation after his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, won the Booker and gained him countless readers and fans. In this episode of Eusebius on TimesLIVE, they explore the story of Mungo in detail.

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As McKaiser summated in his book review recently, “Young Mungo is set in Glasgow and tells the story of Mungo and his family. They are a working-class Protestant family, with plenty of trials and tribulations. His mom, Maureen, is an alcoholic. His brother, Hamish, several years older, is addicted to violence, and his sister Jodie, desperate to escape the horror of their circumstances, is forced to play mother to her younger brother, Mungo, because Maureen is never around.”

Stuart starts by reading from a scene in which a neighbour, Mrs Campbell, appears to defend her husband who beat her up, resisting the moral criticism of him from young Jodie. Stuart and McKaiser discuss the complexities of this scene and the issues that surface, including the brutalising effect that working on ships and in mines had on many men in working-class communities. Without excusing domestic violence, Young Mungo examines the class fissures in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow and Britain that led to some of the social ills that are illuminated throughout the novel, including alcoholism, religious bigotry and domestic violence.

Author Douglas Stuart has defied the 'Booker curse' with a second novel every bit as good as his prizewinning debut.
Author Douglas Stuart has defied the 'Booker curse' with a second novel every bit as good as his prizewinning debut.

Stuart told McKaiser: “Jodie is my favourite character.” Her struggles as a middle child in a dysfunctional family, a child who almost seems out of place in this family, will resonate with many. She dreams beyond the strictures of their housing estate and Stuart wanted to portray her yearning to live beyond the burden of parenting Mungo.

Stuart and McKaiser also discuss Hamish and Maureen. Hamish is a brute, in one sense, but simultaneously a victim of intergenerational violence and injustices not of his making. While he engages in “violence for pleasure”, especially targeting Catholics, it is difficult to know whether to think of him as vile or symptomatic of the structural injustices of the wider society within which he is located.

Similarly, Stuart and McKaiser explore the multiple readings of Maureen. Interestingly, Stuart tells McKaiser he almost felt bad for his portrayal of Maureen as alcoholic and deeply flawed because in working-class lore, it is women such as her who usually anchor a household in vulnerable communities. His aim, however, was to show precisely that such women are also “fallible” (and therefore fully human, beyond the trope of heroism).

Stuart and McKaiser end with a discussion about the biographical aspects of being a writer (and an internationally successful one) and how his work should be classified (if at all). They meditate, in particular, on the pros and cons of being reduced to or regarded as “a queer writer”.

To listen to previous episodes go here.

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