Scottish writer Douglas Stuart wins Booker prize for novel Shuggie Bain

Carla Harmon
November 21, 2020

"I know I'm only the second Scottish book in 50 years to have won and that means, I think, a lot for regional voices, for working-class stories, so thank you".

Stuart, 44, told the BBC he was "absolutely stunned" to win.

The novel follows the life of Agnes Bain, who is descending into despair and struggling with alcohol after the breakdown of her marriage. Eventually, all of her children leave - except for Shuggie.

The Booker Prize, which was announced on Thursday will likely attract a large new audience to "Shuggie Bain" and further cement Stuart's reputation as a blazing new literary talent.

It's dealing witha sensitive but hard subject matter, with characters always having a difficult time.

It may not be a pleasant read, but it's a hopeful read. Stuart is the second Scottish victor of the prestigious award, after James Kelman won the 1994 Booker Prize for his novel How Late It Was, How Late. "This has changed my entire life", he said in his acceptance speech on Thursday.


Stuart's tale of a Glaswegian childhood in the 1980s, blighted by parental addiction and the deprivation of Thatcher's Britain, is a bolt from the blue: extraordinarily immersive, heartbreaking but never mawkish, a clear-eyed story of love and resilience in the most hard of circumstances.

"I'm sorry if I make it sound like a bleak book, it's actually very amusing, it's tender and there's a lot of intimacy and love. As much as there's sadness, I hope there's a lot of humour, and that is the Glaswegian experience".

Shuggie Bain is dedicated to Stuart's own mother, who died from alcoholism when Stuart was 16 years old.

Like the other finalists, the 44-year-old writer, who now lives in NY, was watching the socially distanced ceremony via video link due to the anti-virus lockdown in place in Britain. He had always felt like an "imposter" for being drawn to the world of literature - back when he was a teenager, "studying English was middle-class; even the word "English" was jarring and unsafe in the East End of Glasgow". My family are all still there. But I think society doesn't often like to look.

The victor was announced Thursday at a livestreamed ceremony in London that included remote appearances by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Judges a year ago tore up the rule book by awarding it jointly to Canadian author Margaret Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo.


The Booker prize is the UK's most prestigious prize for fiction written in English.

She added that under new guidelines, if they could not agree on a victor, a majority vote would be honoured.

This year the judges were able to come to a unanimous consensus. A haunting story of poverty and addiction in 1980s Scotland, it can be grim and upsetting.

Ishiguro, 66, who won the Man Booker in 1989 for The Remains of the Day, said the prize itself was not the final test. Doshi's and Cook's novels also revolve around themes of filial love or disenchantment. Shuggie is a sweet, gentle soul who is "no right", longs to be normal and will do anything for his mother, despite their chaotic life. When you buy through them, we may earn a small commission. "I've always felt like my life has been two very distinct parts". That is a real achievement, especially for a debut novel.

"We were rewarding the book", she said. Now he has won the biggest prize in publishing. "We sit alone in a room for a long time and write, and then people sit alone in a room and read it".

Speaking on writing about his hometown from the United States, the author said: 'Childhood in Glasgow was tough, and distance certainly helped me to distill the story out of my experiences of the city.


Stuart will take part in his first official public event as victor for Southbank Centre on Monday (November 23) as part of its "Inside Out" series, interviewed by Bernardine Evaristo, the joint victor of the 2019 Booker Prize. After the award, he hopes to become a full-time writer.

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