A mother, lover, daughter, friend, foe – and the novel she ...

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A mother, lover, daughter, friend, foe – and the novel she inspired

Booker winner Douglas Stuart on the journey of Shuggie Bain

Frederick Studemann

When Douglas Stuart set out to write his story of the love between a son and his mother, he thought he was writing a historical novel that drew on his own “searing, defining experience” of growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s.

The outcome was slightly different from what Stuart initially expected. Set against the backdrop of industrial decline, social decay, sectarianism and merciless poverty, Shuggie Bain, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize for fiction, tells the story of a boy trying to make sense of an adult world in turmoil and an adored mother locked in an ultimately fatal battle with addiction.

Yet as much as it offers an unflinching perspective of how the postwar and Thatcher years played out in the tenements and housing schemes on the fringes of Glasgow, Stuart feels the book is unsettlingly current. “The most startling thing is that it is not a historical novel. We’re still a nation very divided between the people who have and the people who don’t,” he said by Zoom call from his home in New York...

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