Douglas Stuart, author: “I loved Glasgow, but Glasgow didn’t love me”

Booker Prize 2020, “Shuggie Bain” is the first book by Scottish author Douglas Stuart. Largely autobiographical, the novel describes the Glasgow of the 80s, marked by the economic crisis and homophobia, through the story of an unconditional love: that of a son for his mother.

It’s the story of a young boy, Shuggie, who grew up in Glasgow in the 1980s. “In my family we were always working class. People left school quickly to go to work. “With Thatcher, unemployment exploded. Much of the community was left without a job,” says Douglas Stuart.

Shuggie is a lonely boy. He lives with his mother, Agnes, in a dilapidated part of the city plagued by poverty. She dreamed of a beautiful house and a loving husband. But her husband abandoned her. The future is blocked, hopelessly bleak. Douglas Stuart perfectly describes this atmosphere of disrepair where there is both silence and abandonment: “In the community where I come from, the men do extremely difficult jobs. Nobody asks: are you afraid? You? We wait for people to do their jobs, and that’s it. This silence permeates the community. And then there was the Thatcher years: men abandoned their wives, children wanted to leave their mothers. Abandonment has become the center of the community. ”

Agnes, desperate, dark in alcohol. “When men lost their jobs, women’s dreams collapsed. Women understood that they could not put their future in a man’s hands. Paradoxically, it was therefore a good time for the development of feminism.“She finds herself more and more isolated:” Solidarity within the working class exists, but it should not be overestimated, because it can sometimes be used to exclude. Over time, Agnes fell victim to growing misogyny not only from the men, but also from the women in her community. ”



“It’s femininity that connects Shuggie and his mother: I wanted to show how homophobia is also an attack on femininity.”

For his part, Shuggie gradually discovers his attraction to men. “I was about six years old when the locals told me I was different.” He must face bullying, insults, in a world where homophobia is the norm. “It’s femininity that connects Shuggie and his mother: I wanted to show how homophobia is also an attack on femininity.”

Homophobia, another form of misogyny

In this murky and dead-end environment, some clearings are on the horizon. The author remembers, for example, his encounter with books: “When you are poor, from the working classes, it is very hard to concentrate, because you are worried all the time. However, reading requires freedom of mind. And many children from the working classes do not have no access to this thing which seems so simple and which is nevertheless so rare. Reading has opened up other horizons, other possibilities. At the same time, it is terrible for a child to take the measure of the gulf between his world and another possible world. ”



Unfortunately we cannot save the people we love: such is the terrible lesson the young boy will learn.

The more time goes by, the more Agnes’ situation deteriorates. But Shuggie don’t wanna give it up. He has unconditional love for her. He promised to save her. Unfortunately we cannot save the people we love: such is the terrible lesson the young boy will learn. Gallery of characters living in a climate of self-destruction, violence and harassment, portrait of a marginalized working class, this first novel, fair and powerful, nobody wanted: “When I wanted to publish, I received a lot of refusals, because it was not a sales theme. The subject was considered too depressing.”

Fictionalized self-fiction

Even though the book is largely autobiographical, Douglas Stuart preferred the novel’s form to that of self-fiction: “When you write self-fiction, you have to stick to your version of the truth. ‘Shuggie Bain’ is an obviously personal novel, but I wanted to create a character gallery. I didn’t want to be the center, stick to my point of view. ”



“I left Glasgow because I had no chance there. If I had stayed I don’t know what would have become of me…”

We would have done too quickly to put the book in the “social novel” category: “I don’t like this categorization. I think I wrote a romance novel.” And it is also the novel of a paradoxical love for this city that he left: “I loved Glasgow, but Glasgow did not love me. I left Glasgow because I had no chance there. It was impossible to evolve in this context. At the time, there was a lot of gay exile, not just in Scotland for that matter, but all over Europe. If I had stayed, I don’t know what would have become of me… “

“Shuggie Bain”, Globe Edition. 496 pages; 23.90 euros, ****.

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Douglas Stuart, author: “I loved Glasgow, but Glasgow didn’t love me”