Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart was published in 2022. Previously I have read Shuggie Bain by the same author, he won the Booker Prize in 2020 for that one.

To begin with I had my doubts about reading this one because I wasn’t totally enamoured with the premise which is the awakening of gay sexuality between the main character Mungo and his friend James. But there’s an awful lot more to the book than that. I really liked it, my only quibble is that it is very similar to Shuggie Bain in that it features a family of two young boys and a sister, with a totally out of control alcoholic mother. Jodie the sister is the smart one, she wants to make something of herself, and thinks that Mungo could too, if he gets away from the family.

The setting is mainly Dennistoun in Glasgow’s east end (where I was born – it has changed a lot since then!)

Mungo is the youngest in the family, but they’re all very close in age. Hamish is a bit of a wee hardman, he’s a small time drug dealer and general bad lad, incredibly violent and a proud and bigotted Protestant. He wants Mungo to be just like him, part of a family firm. Mungo really isn’t interested in the violence and mayhem that surrounds Hamish, but Hamish makes him take part in an attack on the Fenians, the Roman Catholic lads in a nearby neighbourhood.

Mungo is much happier spending time with James at his racing pigeon doocot/dovecot, but James is a Catholic. Hamish isn’t going to let that relationship flourish.

Meanwhile Mo-Maw as they call their mother is steeped in self pity and like all addicts the only really important thing to her is alcohol, so she’s often absent from home for weeks at a time. From time to time she goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and it’s there that she meets two men who she happily hands Mungo over to so they can all go on a fishing holiday to the Highlands, with the idea that they will help Mungo to ‘man up’.  Mungo just wants to be with James.

I ended up enjoying this one a lot more than I thought I would, but I hope that the next book by the author has moved away from a three child family with an alcoholic mother.


Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain cover

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize and at the time I seem to remember that there were a lot of people who were very surprised, complaining that it was difficult to read the Scots/Glaswegian dialect, but really there’s very little in it.

The setting is Glasgow where Agnes Bain has walked out on her husband and taken her three children with her. She goes off with a taxi driver called Hugh Bain, he’s more exciting than her husband it would seem, but neither of them have planned things, and Hugh has walked out on his wife and four chidren. With nowhere to live they end up moving in with Agnes’s parents. Life isn’t at all as Agnes had imagined it to be and she has developed a serious alcohol problem.

Unsurprisingly Hugh has turned out to be a terrible philandering husband. When Agnes has a melt down they have to move out of her parent’s home and Hugh rents a flat in a remote pit village, but of course the pit is closed, everybody is unemployed, it’s a desert with windows, and Agnes’s drink problem gets worse and worse. As you would expect the home life of the children is a disaster, but the two older ones leave home and Shuggie is the one who is left behind to deal with Agnes who as soon as she gets her benefit money spends it all on booze and fags.

This book is very autobiographical and is a grim read at times, especially when you remember that in reality there are so many children having to cope with addicted parents, it’s heart-breaking. However, Douglas Stuart has managed to triumph over his dreadful childhood and has become a successful fashion designer and of course author.

You can read Jack’s far more detailed review here.