Shuggie Bain

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Shuggie Bain
Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart).png
First edition cover
AuthorDouglas Stuart
Audio read byAngus King
Cover artistPhotograph by Peter Marlow (first edition cover)
CountryUnited States
Set inGlasgow, 1981–1992
PublisherGrove Press (US), Picador (UK)
Publication date
11 February 2020 (US)
Media typePrint (hardback and softback), e-book, audio
AwardsBooker Prize (2020)
ISBN978-0-8021-4804-9 (US first edition hardcover)
LC ClassPS3619.T828 S58 2020

Shuggie Bain is the debut novel by Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart, published in 2020. It tells the story of the youngest of three children, Shuggie, growing up with his alcoholic mother Agnes in 1980s post-industrial working-class Glasgow.[1][2]

The novel was awarded the 2020 Booker Prize,[3] making Stuart the second Scottish winner of the prize in its 51-year history,[4] following James Kelman in 1994.[5] Shuggie Bain was also a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction[6] and a finalist for the 2020 John Leonard Prize for Best First Book from the National Book Critics Circle.[7] It was also selected as a notable book by the American Library Association on their 2021 ALA Notable lists for adult fiction.[8]


The novel opens in 1992, when Hugh "Shuggie" Bain is fifteen years old and living alone in a boarding house in Glasgow. He aspires to be a hairdresser while working shifts at a supermarket deli. He leaves work, placing tin cans of fish in his bag.

In 1981 five-year-old Shuggie is living in a tenement flat in Sighthill with his maternal grandparents, Wullie and Lizzie; his mother, Agnes Bain; his father, Hugh "Shug" Bain; his half-brother, Leek; and his half-sister, Catherine. Shuggie's father is mostly absent, working as a cab driver and having affairs with other women. Agnes is a beautiful woman often compared to Elizabeth Taylor, but she is unfulfilled by her life and takes to drinking.

The following year Shug moves the family into a council flat in Pithead for families of workers of the local mine. He ultimately abandons the family there, leaving them to live with Joanie Micklewhite, the dispatcher of his cab company. Agnes desires a life of glamour, taking pride in her appearance, but her unhappiness drives her reliance on alcohol. Meanwhile, Shuggie is bullied at school and in the neighbourhood for not fitting in and for being effeminate. Shuggie often misses school to act as his mother's caregiver during her hangovers.

Agnes' parents die and her daughter marries young, moving to South Africa. Agnes' alcoholism worsens, and she is taken advantage of by abusive men. Her future looks brighter when she starts going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and takes a job as a petrol-station attendant. She manages to stay off drink completely for a year, during which time she meets a cab driver named Eugene, whom she begins to date. Eugene often drinks in front of her during dinners. He eventually convinces Agnes to drink a glass of wine, and she relapses into alcoholism. Put off by her alcoholism, Eugene leaves her. After a sexual assault at a party she attends when drunk, Agnes downward spirals and loses her job. She makes multiple suicide attempts over the next few years.

Agnes' alcoholism continues to alienate her from her children. In one of her drunken rages, she kicks Leek out of the house. Despite her behaviour, Shuggie maintains an unwavering devotion to her. The two of them move to a more inner-city neighbourhood, and Agnes promises to stop drinking, but unable to change their circumstances, their relationship becomes strained as Shuggie grows older. In a drunken stupor, Agnes dies after inhaling her own saliva.

Back in 1992 Shuggie gives the tins of fish to his friend Leanne, who gives them to her homeless alcoholic mother.


The manuscript was rejected by at least 30 publishers before it was purchased by the American independent publisher, Grove Atlantic.[9] It was first published in the United States in hardcover by Grove Press on 11 February 2020.[10] Later, the Picador imprint of Pan Macmillan published it in the United Kingdom first as a softback open market edition (OME) on 20 February 2020, and as a hardcover on 6 August 2020.[11]

The Grove Press cover features a photograph by Peter Marlow.[12] Douglas Stuart expressed a fondness for the photograph, saying "it captures perfectly the fierce love that Shuggie has for his troubled mother".[13] The Picador cover features a photograph by Jez Coulson, shot in Easterhouse, Glasgow[14][15] (about which Stuart tweeted on 13 August 2020:" I was instantly struck by the power of Jez's photo the moment I saw it").[16]

Editions in English[edit]


By 2021, the work has come out in translation in various different languages, including Catalan, French, German, Hebrew, Polish and Spanish, among others. Rights have also been sold for Arabic, Croatian and Japanese.[17] Indeed, by April 2021, rights had been sold for the book in 38 languages, including Dutch, Finnish, Georgian, Korean, Marathi, Mongolian, Portuguese, Serbian, Tamil, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.[18][19] [20]

List of translated editions[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of some of the book's editions in other languages:

  • Catalan: La història d'en Shuggie Bain. Translated by Busquet Molist, Núria. Barcelona: Edicions de 1984. 1 July 2021. ISBN 978-84-16987-95-5.[21][22] [23]
  • French: Shuggie Bain. Translated by Bonnot, Charles. Paris: Editeur Globe. August 2021. ISBN 978-2-3836-1000-7.
  • German: Shuggie Bain. Translated by Zeitz, Sophie. Berlin: Hanser Berlin. August 2021.[24]
  • Hebrew: Shuggie Bain. Translated by Sendik, Shai. Israel: Lesa. April 2021.
  • Polish: Shuggie Bain. Translated by Cieślik, Krzysztof. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie. 2021.[25]
  • etc.


The novel was widely reviewed, not without reservations, but almost uniformly positive in the final assessment, and found a place on many prominent lists of the best books of 2020.

Writing in The Observer, Alex Preston said: "Rarely does a debut novel establish its world with such sure-footedness, and Stuart's prose is lithe, lyrical and full of revelatory descriptive insights. This is a memorable book about family, violence and sexuality."[26] Reviewing for The New York Times, Leah Hager Cohen wrote that "the book would be just about unbearable were it not for the author's astonishing capacity for love. He's lovely, Douglas Stuart, fierce and loving and lovely. He shows us lots of monstrous behavior, but not a single monster — only damage. If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains."[27]

In the Daily Telegraph, Cal Revely-Calder called the novel "an astonishing portrait, drawn from life, of a society left to die – forgotten by those who didn't believe in society, and told it to care for itself."[28] Allan Massie in The Scotsman noted that Stuart "hides nothing of the horrors of galloping alcoholism, but there is a gallantry about Agnes which commands respect and admiration, however reluctantly."[29] The review in Kirkus concluded: "How can love be so powerful and so helpless at the same time? Readers may get through the whole novel without breaking down—then read the first sentence of the acknowledgements and lose it. The emotional truth embodied here will crack you open. You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece."[30] Comparing the book to another of the year's Booker Prize shortlisted works, Real Life by Brandon Taylor, Shougat Dasgupta noted in The Hindu that both novels were "bound by a sense of dread and a groping towards love", and went on to describe Shuggie Bain as a part of a "rich seam of contemporary Scottish working class writing." Summarising, the review stated: "Occasionally, Shuggie Bain, with its sentimentality and overwhelming squalor, can veer close to self-parody but is always pulled back from the brink by its enormous heart, by the enormous love that binds Shuggie to Agnes."[31]

Shuggie Bain was longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction,[32] shortlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize,[33] and was a finalist for the 2020 Kirkus Prize[34] as well as the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.[35] On 19 November 2020, it was announced as the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, chosen by a judging panel comprising Margaret Busby (chair), Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay, and Emily Wilson.[3] Interviewed at the time of his Booker longlisting, Stuart said that the previous Scottish winner of the prize, James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late (1994), changed his life and was "one of the first times I saw my people, my dialect, on the page".[36]

The novel went to the top of the Los Angeles Times bestsellers list and to number 3 on the New York Times list.[37] It headed The Telegraph's list of "The 50 best books of 2020"[38] and was picked by The Times as the year's best novel,[39] in addition to being named as one of the best books of the year by many other publications and outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, the BBC, The Guardian, The Observer, the Financial Times, Kirkus Reviews, Vogue and Elle.[40]

Television adaptation[edit]

A24 and Scott Rudin Productions won the rights for a television adaptation of Shuggie Bain, with Scott Rudin and Eli Bush as producers and Stuart himself set to adapt the novel.[40][37]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Ref.
2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters: Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction Won [41]
2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction Longlisted [42]
2020 Booker Prize Won [43]
2020 Books Are My Bag Readers' Awards: Breakthrough Author Award Shortlisted [44]
2021 British Book Awards: Overall Book of the Year Won [45]
2021 British Book Awards: Debut Book of the Year Won [46]
2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Shortlisted [47]
2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize: Fiction Finalist [48]
2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards: Europe Best Regional Fiction (Bronze) Won [49]
2021 Indie Book Awards UK: Fiction Shortlisted [50]
2020 Kirkus Prize for Fiction Finalist [51]
2021 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction Finalist [52]
2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize: Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction Finalist [53]
2020 National Book Award for Fiction Finalist [54]
2020 National Book Critics Circle Award: John Leonard Prize for Best First Book Finalist [55]
2021 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction Longlisted [56]
2021 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel Finalist [57]
2021 Polari Prize: Polari First Book Prize Shortlisted [58]
2021 Prix du roman Fnac: French translation by Charles Bonnot Nominated [59]
2021 Rathbones Folio Prize Longlisted [60]
2021 Society of Authors: McKitterick Prize Shortlisted [61]
2021 South Bank Sky Arts Award: Literature Shortlisted [62]
2020 Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year Won [63]


  1. ^ Gearty, Eliza (16 March 2020). "Shuggie Bain, a Window on Postindustrial Glasgow". Jacobin. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  2. ^ Baker, Lindsay (27 October 2020). "The best books of the year so far 2020". Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b Flood, Alison (19 November 2020). "Douglas Stuart wins Booker prize for debut Shuggie Bain". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  4. ^ Chilton, Martin (26 November 2020). "Booker prize winner Douglas Stuart: 'Homophobia makes you think there's something broken'". The Independent. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  5. ^ Clark, Alex (22 November 2020). "Shuggie Bain's tale tells us that the Booker prize has matured". The Observer.
  6. ^ Williams, John (6 October 2020). "National Book Awards Finalists Announced". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  7. ^ Maher, John (24 January 2021). "NBCC Awards Finalists Announced". Publishers Weekly.
  8. ^ "2021 Notable Books List". Reference and User Services Association (RUSA): Division of the American Library Association. 18 April 2021.
  9. ^ Alter, Alexandra (19 November 2020). "Douglas Stuart Wins Booker Prize for 'Shuggie Bain'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Shuggie Bain". Grove Atlantic. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart". Pan Macmillan. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  12. ^ Stuart, Douglas (11 February 2020). Shuggie Bain: A Novel (Booker Prize Winner). Grove Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-8021-4805-6.
  13. ^ @Doug_D_Stuart (30 August 2019). "I'm well chuffed to share the cover of SHUGGIE BAIN. I have loved this intimate Peter Marlow photograph forever. I think it captures perfectly the fierce love that Shuggie has for his troubled mother. Thank you @peterblackstock and @groveatlantic Holy shit! It's real" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  14. ^ Christie, Janet (22 August 2020). "Interview: Douglas Stuart – Scottish debut novelist makes The Booker longlist with Shuggie Bain". The Scotsman. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  15. ^ Coulson, Jez (22 May 2008). "Crucified in Easterhouse : Glasgow : Scotland". Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  16. ^ @Doug_D_Stuart (13 August 2020). "Replying to @LostGlasgow Thanks LG! I was instantly struck by the power of Jez's photo the moment I saw it. Stu and the team @picadorbooks did a phenomenal job with the cover" (Tweet). Retrieved 27 November 2020 – via Twitter.
  17. ^ "Douglas Stuart’s ‘Extraordinary Year’: ‘Shuggie Bain’ Rights Sales Are Soaring", Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives, 16 Dec. 2020. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  18. ^ "Booker-winning Shuggie Bain shifts 500k copies globally", Mark Chandler, The, 13 April 2021. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  19. ^ "Shuggie Bain among Scotland Translation Fund recipients", Ruth Comerford, The, 19 February 2021. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  20. ^ "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart" entry, Anna Stein, Curtis Brown. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  21. ^ "Shuggie Bain, el nou heroi literari sorgit de la devastació del thatcherisme. Edicions de 1984 tradueix al català la novel·la de Douglas Stuart guanyadora del premi Booker" (in Catalan), Sebastià Bennasar, Vilaweb, 16 Set. 2021. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  22. ^ Entry for La història d'en Shuggie Bain (in Catalan) at [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  23. ^ Conversation with Douglas Stuart and Bel Olid: Writing is my riot (in English, Catalan and Spanish), CCCB. [Retrieved: 17-09-2021].
  24. ^ "Preisregen für queere Literatur". (in de-DE). 21 November 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  25. ^ Płociński, Michał (26 November 2020). "Booker to nagroda, która "robi pisarza"". Rzeczpospolita (in Polish). Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  26. ^ Preston, Alex (9 August 2020). "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart review – lithe, revelatory debut". The Observer.
  27. ^ Cohen, Leah Hager (11 February 2020). "In 1980s Glasgow, a World of Pain Made Bearable by Love". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 November 2020.
  28. ^ Revely-Calder, Cal (19 November 2020). "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, review: a searing novel that deserves its acclaim". The Telegraph.
  29. ^ Massie, Allan (21 August 2020). "Book review: Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart". The Scotsman.
  30. ^ "You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece". Kirkus Reviews. 1 November 2019.
  31. ^ Dasgupta, Shougat (31 October 2020). "A terrible beauty: Review of 'Shuggie Bain' and 'Real Life'". The Hindu (in en-IN). ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 23 November 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
  32. ^ "Longlist for 2021 Carnegie Medals Announced". American Libraries. 26 October 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  33. ^ "2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Longlist". Publishers Weekly. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  34. ^ Schaub, Michael (9 September 2020). "Kirkus Prize Finalists Are Announced". Kirkus. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  35. ^ Kircher, Madison Malone (6 October 2020). "The National Book Awards Finalists Hath Arrived". Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  36. ^ "Interview with longlisted author Douglas Stuart". The Booker Prizes. 11 August 2020. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  37. ^ a b Countryman, Eli (3 December 2020). "A24, Scott Rudin Productions Option 'Shuggie Bain' for TV Adaptation". Variety. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  38. ^ "The 50 best books of 2020". The Telegraph. 1 December 2020.
  39. ^ Kemp, Peter; Robbie Millen (27 November 2020). "Best fiction books of the year 2020". The Times.
  40. ^ a b Kroll, Justin (3 December 2020). "A24 And Scott Rudin Productions Land The Rights To Douglas Stuart's 'Shuggie Bain' With Plans Develop For TV". Deadline. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  41. ^ "2021 Winners". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  42. ^ "2021 Winners". Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  43. ^ "The Booker Prize 2020". The Booker Prizes. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  44. ^ "Books Are My Bag Awards 2020". Books Are My Bag Readers' Awards. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  45. ^ Comerford, Ruth (13 May 2021). "Stuart's Shuggie Bain bags Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2021". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  46. ^ "Books of the Year - Fiction: Debut | British Book Awards 2021". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  47. ^ "2020 First Novel Prize: The Short List". The Center for Fiction. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  48. ^ "Dayton Literary Peace Prize 2021 Finalists". 2021 Finalists. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  49. ^ "2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards Results". Independent Publisher Book Awards. Retrieved 14 June 2021.
  50. ^ "Indie Book Awards 2021 Shortlist". Indie Book Awards. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  51. ^ "2020 Kirkus Prize". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  52. ^ "Lambda Literary Awards 2021". Lambda Literary Foundation. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  53. ^ "41st Annual L.A. Times Book Prize for best books of 2020". Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  54. ^ "National Book Awards 2020". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  55. ^ "2020 NBCC Award Finalists". The National Book Critics Circle Award. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  56. ^ "The Orwell Prizes 2021". The Orwell Prize. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  57. ^ "PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel". Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  58. ^ "Polari First Book Prize 2021 Shortlist". Polari Prize's Official Twitter Page. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  59. ^ "Prix du roman Fnac 2021: Découvrez la première sélection". Prix du roman Fnac. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  60. ^ "The Rathbones Folio Prize 2021 Longlist". The Rathbones Folio Prize 2021 Longlist. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  61. ^ ""The transformative power of the written word" - Announcing the 2021 SoA Awards shortlists". Society of Authors. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  62. ^ "The South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2021". The South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2021. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  63. ^ Chandler, Mark (16 November 2020). "Shuggie Bain named Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year". The Bookseller. Retrieved 8 December 2020.