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.