‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart is my book of the year, 2020.
A debut novel, Winner of the Booker Prize, a remarkable achievement and I love it. I read a hardback copy – borrowed – and am waiting impatiently for the paperback publication later this year to have my own copy.
A story of love and compassion against the cruelties of addiction and prejudice. Set in the poorest part of Glasgow, a young mother attempts to rise above the negative expectations of the neighbourhood, battles alcoholism, and is adored by her younger son, who clings to the belief that he can look after her. The writing is superb, a joy to read where we discover tenderness and humour against the vile treatment of Agnes by men who use her entirely for their own satisfaction. The language is raw and vivid involving the reader in the place, the people and their circumstances. The authenticity of descriptions probably come from Stuart’s experiences as a child and young adult. The book is dedicated to his mother.
2020 was a hard year where reading, escaping into other worlds, became of prime importance. However, this novel would have received this accolade in any ordinary year, an accolade which means that I will wish to re read on many occasions in the future.
I have not awarded this achievement to any other novel since ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr in 2016.
And prior to that in the same year HHhH by Laurent Binet.
There have been many, many books that I’ve enjoyed and applauded in the four years in between though none have given me that extra lift of the desire to read again and again. Searching my book shelves I looked for others that have been so fulfilling.
Recently rereading The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal it made me realise that I should have bestowed that honour in 2010. I’ll pick that up for at least a third time and more. Similarly the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt in 2014.
What does this tell me about my reading preferences? History in all four; 1980’s Glasgow, France and Germany in Second World War, Prague in May 1942, New York in possibly the 1990’s, an imagined art theft, therefore we learn about this particular picture, its value and rise to prominence. We have mystery and childhood, even child protagonists, but above all a strong story.
But last year and this year I cheer for ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart.