Shuggie Bain

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Shuggie Bain
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
Followed byYoung Mungo

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] the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize,[7] and the 2020 John Leonard Prize for Best First Book from the National Book Critics Circle.[8] It was also selected as a notable book by the American Library Association on their 2021 ALA Notable lists for adult fiction.[9] It is written in English, but dialogue is in Scots.[10][11][12][13] As of April 2022, the novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies globally.[14]


The novel opens in 1992, when Hugh "Shuggie" Bain is 15 years old. He lives alone in a boarding house in Glasgow, working shifts at a supermarket deli, and aspires to be a hairdresser. 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's parents die and her daughter marries young, moving to South Africa. Agnes's 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 spirals downwards and loses her job. She makes multiple suicide attempts over the next few years.

Agnes's 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.

Publication and sales[edit]

Douglas Stuart wrote Shuggie Bain over a period of a decade, while balancing the demands of his successful job in fashion design.[15][16] The manuscript was rejected by at least 30 publishers before it was purchased by the American independent publisher, Grove Atlantic.[17] The novel was first published in the United States in hardcover by Grove Press on 11 February 2020.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20][21] The translations have been financed through grants from the Publishing Scotland Translation Fund with assistance from Creative Scotland.[22]

The book's initial publication was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grove Press shipped approximately 7,000 copies to bookstores, but only around 1,000 hardcover copies sold in the first two months of its publication, according to NPD BookScan data. In late 2020, the book received a renewal of attention when it was nominated for numerous literary awards. In response, Grove pushed the publication of the paperback edition up from December to 13 October 2022. As of October 2020, Grove had printed 30,000 copies.[23] The novel went to the top of the Los Angeles Times bestsellers list and to number 3 on the New York Times list.[24] As of April 2022, the novel has sold more than 1.5 million copies globally.[25]

The Grove Press cover features a photograph by Peter Marlow.[26] Douglas Stuart expressed a fondness for the photograph, saying that "it captures perfectly the fierce love that Shuggie has for his troubled mother".[27] The Picador cover features a photograph by Jez Coulson, shot in Easterhouse, Glasgow[28][29] (about which Stuart tweeted on 13 August 2020:" I was instantly struck by the power of Jez's photo the moment I saw it").[30]

Editions in English[edit]

Translated editions[edit]


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."[31] 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."[32]

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."[33] 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."[34] Michael Delgado of Literary Review described the relationship between Agnes and Shuggie as having "an overwhelming intensity of feeling," perhaps because it is so heavily drawn from Stuart's life: "Reading the details of it is like taking repeated abdominal punches, one for each time Agnes hauls herself onto the wagon and tumbles back off again."[35]

The review in Kirkus Reviews 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."[36] 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 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."[37]

Shuggie Bain was longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction,[38] shortlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize,[39] and was a finalist for the 2020 Kirkus Prize[40] as well as the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.[41] 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".[42]

The novel headed The Telegraph's list of "The 50 best books of 2020"[43] and was picked by The Times as the year's best novel,[44] 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.[45]

In 2021, a mural inspired by the novel was unveiled on the wall of the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, featuring Shuggie Bain dancing in the street, together with a quote from his mother Agnes: "You'll not remember the city, you were too wee, but there's dancing. All kinds of dancing."[46][47] The artwork and lettering was created by the Cobolt Collective – comprising Glasgow School of Art 2015 graduates Erin Bradley-Scott, Chelsea Frew and Kat Loudon[48] – and is 20 meters high and 20 meters wide.[49] In his response, Douglas Stuart said: "I hope the mural inspires other weans to dream big with their creativity. It's definitely one of the proudest moments of my life."[50]

Shuggie Bain was included on the "Big Jubilee Read" list of 70 books selected by the BBC and The Reading Agency to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in June 2022.[51]

Television adaptation[edit]

In December 2020, it was announced that 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.[45][24] In November 2022, the BBC confirmed the adaptation, which will be filmed in Scotland and broadcast on BBC One and iPlayer.[52] Stuart will adapt Shuggie Bain himself. A24 will co-produce and hold international distribution rights.[53]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Ref.
2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters: Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction Won [54]
2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction Longlisted [55]
2020 Booker Prize Won [56]
2020 Books Are My Bag Readers' Awards: Breakthrough Author Award Shortlisted [57]
2021 British Book Awards: Overall Book of the Year Won [58]
2021 British Book Awards: Debut Book of the Year Won [59]
2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Shortlisted [60]
2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize: Fiction Finalist [61]
2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards: Europe Best Regional Fiction (Bronze) Won [62]
2021 Indie Book Awards UK: Fiction Shortlisted [63]
2020 Kirkus Prize for Fiction Finalist [64]
2021 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction Finalist [65]
2022 Libr'à Nous: Littérature Étrangère (French translation by Charles Bonnot) Won [66][67][better source needed]
2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize: Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction Finalist [68]
2020 National Book Award for Fiction Finalist [69]
2020 National Book Critics Circle Award: John Leonard Prize for Best First Book Finalist [70]
2021 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction Longlisted [71]
2021 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel Finalist [72]
2021 Polari Prize: Polari First Book Prize Shortlisted [73]
2021 Prix du roman Fnac: French translation by Charles Bonnot Nominated [74]
2021 Rathbones Folio Prize Longlisted [75]
2021 Society of Authors: McKitterick Prize Shortlisted [76]
2021 South Bank Sky Arts Award: Literature Shortlisted [77]
2020 Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year Won [78]


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  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. ^ 2020 & 2021 Awards -- Dayton Literary Peace Prize
  8. ^ Maher, John (24 January 2021). "NBCC Awards Finalists Announced". Publishers Weekly.
  9. ^ "2021 Notable Books List". Reference and User Services Association (RUSA): Division of the American Library Association. 18 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart". ANGELINE KING. 1 December 2020.
  11. ^ Wade, Mike (17 May 2021). "Douglas Stuart's Glasgow is changing fast. Will Shuggie Bain feel at home?". The Times.
  12. ^ "Bahoochie". 26 August 2021.
  13. ^ Guinness, Emma (25 January 2021). "Modern Scots language should be celebrated the same as Robert Burns". The National.
  14. ^ Jones, Rebecca (14 April 2022). "Douglas Stuart: Booker Prize-winning author 'feels like an impostor'". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  15. ^ Hess, Liam (8 December 2020). "The Beauty and Brutality of Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain". Vogue. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  16. ^ Mancini, Sophie (18 January 2022). "Weaving Wool, Weaving Words: Douglas Stuart, author of 'Shuggie Bain,' on leaving fashion for literature". Departures. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  17. ^ Alter, Alexandra (19 November 2020). "Douglas Stuart Wins Booker Prize for 'Shuggie Bain'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  18. ^ Shuggie Bain. Retrieved 29 October 2020. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  19. ^ "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart". Pan Macmillan. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  20. ^ Chandler, Mark (13 April 2021). "Booker-winning Shuggie Bain shifts 500k copies globally". The Bookseller. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  21. ^ Stein, Anna. "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart". Curtis Brown. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  22. ^ Comerford, Ruth (19 February 2021). "Shuggie Bain among Scotland Translation Fund recipients". The Bookseller. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  23. ^ Alter, Alexandra (23 October 2020). "How 'Shuggie Bain' Became This Year's Breakout Debut". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 November 2020. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  24. ^ a b Countryman, Eli (3 December 2020). "A24, Scott Rudin Productions Option 'Shuggie Bain' for TV Adaptation". Variety. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  25. ^ Sanghera, Sathnam (9 April 2022). "Young Mungo author Douglas Stuart: As a child, I hid so much shame". The Times. Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  26. ^ Stuart, Douglas (11 February 2020). Shuggie Bain: A Novel (Booker Prize Winner). Grove Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-8021-4805-6.
  27. ^ @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.
  28. ^ Christie, Janet (22 August 2020). "Interview: Douglas Stuart – Scottish debut novelist makes The Booker longlist with Shuggie Bain". The Scotsman. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  29. ^ Coulson, Jez (22 May 2008). "Crucified in Easterhouse : Glasgow : Scotland". Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  30. ^ @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.
  31. ^ Preston, Alex (9 August 2020). "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart review – lithe, revelatory debut". The Observer.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Revely-Calder, Cal (19 November 2020). "Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, review: a searing novel that deserves its acclaim". The Telegraph.
  34. ^ Massie, Allan (21 August 2020). "Book review: Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart". The Scotsman.
  35. ^ Delgado, Michael (20 November 2020). "Coming of Age". Literary Review.
  36. ^ "You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece". Kirkus Reviews. 1 November 2019.
  37. ^ Dasgupta, Shougat (31 October 2020). "A terrible beauty: Review of 'Shuggie Bain' and 'Real Life'". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
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  39. ^ "2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Longlist". Publishers Weekly. 22 July 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  40. ^ Schaub, Michael (9 September 2020). "Kirkus Prize Finalists Are Announced". Kirkus. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  41. ^ Kircher, Madison Malone (6 October 2020). "The National Book Awards Finalists Hath Arrived". Retrieved 24 November 2020.
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  43. ^ "The 50 best books of 2020". The Telegraph. 1 December 2020.
  44. ^ Kemp, Peter; Robbie Millen (27 November 2020). "Best fiction books of the year 2020". The Times.
  45. ^ 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.
  46. ^ "Shuggie Bain mural unveiled in Glasgow". BBC News. 2 April 2021. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  47. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (2 April 2022). "Interview | Douglas Stuart on his tough start: 'Living with an alcoholic, there wasn't much I didn't see'". The Guardian.
  48. ^ Flockhart, Gary (3 April 2021). "Shuggie Bain: Stunning mural unveiled in city which inspired Booker-winning novel". The Scotsman.
  49. ^ Suter, Ruth (2 April 2021). "Huge Shuggie Bain inspired mural unveiled outside the Barrowland Ballroom". Glasgow Evening Times.
  50. ^ Mason, Richard (3 April 2021). "Shuggie Bain mural paints Booker prize winner into Glasgow city culture". The National.
  51. ^ "The Big Jubilee Read: A literary celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's record-breaking reign". BBC. 17 April 2022. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  52. ^ "Shuggie Bain: Douglas Stuart's Booker winner gets TV adaptation". BBC News. 14 November 2022. Retrieved 14 November 2022.
  53. ^ Yossman, K.J. (14 November 2022). "'Shuggie Bain,' Douglas Stuart's Booker Prize-Winning Novel, Set for A24, BBC Adaptation". Variety. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
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  58. ^ 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.
  59. ^ "Books of the Year - Fiction: Debut | British Book Awards 2021". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
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  72. ^ "PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel". Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. 23 March 2020. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  73. ^ Wood, Heloise (28 July 2021). "Mendez and Stuart shortlisted for Polari First Book Prize". The Bookseller. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  74. ^ Devley, Alice (15 July 2021). "Prix du roman Fnac 2021: Découvrez la première sélection". Prix du roman Fnac. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
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External links[edit]