“Shuggie Bain”, translated from English (Scotland) by Charles Bonnot, by Douglas Stuart, Globe, 496 p., € 23.90, digital € 16.
Sounds a bit like a warning. Or a latent complex, despite the awards and honors. “You know, I’m… an underdog. I don’t come from the literary world at all. I grew up in a house with no books. “ Later in the conversation, Douglas Stuart will add: “Writer, me? I would never have dared to use that term. I wrote like that, haphazardly. A paragraph then a chapter, and so on until the end. Until one day I said to myself: “Oh my God, I have a book!” ” He’s laughing. At the time, “It was 900 pages” ! A first novel that would later be cut in half, published by Grove Press in New York under the title Shuggie Bath, and crowned in 2020 by the prestigious Booker Prize.
As if he never ceased to be amazed, Douglas Stuart smiled. He talks to us via videoconference about East Village, Manhattan, where he lives and works. His accent betrays his origins. “I chose New York to pursue my career [de designer de mode]. Distance has given me clarity of mind. But I was born in Glasgow, in 1976. “
In the grip of poverty and alcohol
The Scotland he describes is that of the 1980s, that of their common childhood, to Shuggie, his narrator, and to him. “ Devastated post-industrial landscapes, unemployment at 26%, life expectancy eleven years below average, everything was disintegrating everywhere. It was the start of the Thatcher years. Today, it is being rehabilitated, but at the time, Scotland was paying a high price. Having said that, I didn’t want to write a political book. Shuggie Bath is a romance novel. “
Of total, distraught, desperate love of an 8-year-old son for his mother. He is a “Queer boy” as he says, different and laughed at by his comrades. She, a wreck, caught in the stranglehold of poverty and alcohol. Gradually, the void settled around her. Husbands, children, lovers, all fled. “People don’t really want to know her anymore”, Shuggie explains in the book. “When she is very drunk, she gets very angry. I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself (…). Sometimes before school I hide all the pills in the bathroom. “
Near her, he will be the last, but he will be there until the end. These two form an indissoluble couple. She drinks for “Push back ugliness and loneliness”, he loves her for similar reasons: both endure the same ordeal. It is also an astonishing photo of modern crucifixion that the publisher has chosen for the cover of the French version. In a dilapidated setting, Shuggie perched on a T-post takes on, in all his candor, the appearance of Christ. The Father has abandoned them, the Mother is one mater dolorosa, the Son suffers on the cross, all without the slightest note of miserability.
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Douglas Stuart and his Booker Prize writes “haphazardly”