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89. Shuggie Bain

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On the one hand ‘bleak, meandering and depressing’ on the other a beautifully written book that has touched the hearts of its readers – but what did Kate’s book club make of Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker winner Shuggie Bain? We’re joined by friend and journalist Phil Chaffee to discuss it. The big question is, has Laura managed to make it through more than the first sixty pages?

Set in Glasgow in the early 1980s we meet Agnes, struggling mother of three children, living with her parents, bored, lonely and desperate for a more exciting life. When her husband promises her a better life in a small house outside of town she packs up children and possessions and they head off in his taxi. Upon arrival, however, Agnes realises that the house is situated in the bleakest part of a forgotten ex-mining town, and that she is to live there with the children, alone. Agnes turns to drink for solace and escape but gradually it comes to dominate her. Meanwhile her children must do what they can to make lives for themselves. While the older ones find ways to leave it is her youngest son, Shuggie, who refuses to give up on Agnes. But as an outsider, and someone who doesn’t fit in, how will Shuggie survive?

Among many other things we discuss the vexed issue of how exactly to pronounce Shuggie, hear from some Glaswegians and consider the ways in which reading can be like the film Finding Nemo (‘just keep reading’), a thought that may be helpful if, like Laura, you find you are struggling with some of the events that occur in Shuggie Bain.

Listen in for all this plus our recommendations for books we think would make for great follow-on reads and generate excellent book-club debate.

Have you read Shuggie? What did you think? Comment below and let us know.

Books recommended following on from Shuggie Bain

Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Don’t miss

We previously discussed Shuggie Bain on our 2020 Booker Prize episode. Listen in to find out our first reactions to Shuggie, plus what we thought of the also-rans.


Phil mentioned the New York Review article ‘A Good Year Once’ by James Walton

We also discussed Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon


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