Shuggie Bain is a deserving winner of the Booker

Winner of the Booker Prize 2020

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020
The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020

Guru Chahal

Yesterday, I finally finished reading the Man Booker Prize 2020 winner – Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart’s first novel. It took me a month and a half to finish the 430-pager paperback because I didn’t think much of it to begin with. However, I took it up again after some days and was more determined to finish reading it as I was intrigued about the book receiving all-round praise from the critics, and wanted to find out for myself the reason for it. I’m glad I did because about half way through it, I started looking forward to reading the next chapter, and towards the end, I couldn’t put it down. I also found myself gutted by grief for its unfortunate protagonists – the alcoholic mother and her 15-year old boy whose life has revolved around caring for her.

There are sections in the book which tend to offend us. Elderly Indian middle-class readers like I do not easily accept raunchiness, drunkenness and any such behaviour that falls in the category of ‘loose morals’. We have grown up on the novels of Hardy, Dickens and Jane Austen, and although we liked reading D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and other fine novels, we felt guilty reading ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ because it challenged our perception of niceness and decency! That said, the world has since moved on and now, reading a really trashy novel like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is no big deal for the millennium generation.

‘Shuggie Bain’ is set in Glasgow’s poverty-ridden mining community of the 1980s. It’s about a woman – Agnes Bain – whose husband – a taxi driver – has no qualms about cheating on his wife. It’s his rakish behaviour that drives her to alcoholism and reckless behaviour. She is a proud woman who cares about her looks and fiercely defends her dignity till the very end. Her young son, Shuggie Bain, looks after her as if he is the parent, and this is the book’s defining feature – filial love. Towards the end of the book, when Shuggie holds his dying mother in his arms, only a cynical, hard hearted person will be left dry-eyed. As the reviewer says in ‘New York Times’ –
“Shuggie Bain leaves us gutted and marvelling: Life may be short, but it takes forever.”

The author, a Glaswegian, has dedicated the book to his mother and (in ‘Acknowledgements’) he mentions his memories of her and her struggle. No wonder then the book is so deeply imbued with intense personal trauma.

Many may not agree with me but I believe Shuggie Bain is a deserving winner of the Booker.

Guru Chahal, true to his name, is widely respected as a corporate guru. He has played a long innings as the Executive Director and Chief Advisor Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. Guru now lives near Bengaluru.


  1. The quality of a good review is that it motivates you to read the book. From Mr. Guru Chahal’s review, I can make out that the feelings of the son and the mother must reflect a lot that we observe happening within the slums of our big cities. Here too we find women deserted by their husbands and then being looked after by the sons.

    Certainly, I must read the book. How soon will that happen is the BIG QUESTION


  2. In Literature nothing is obscene or immoral. It is a depiction of a situation, incident or point of view. Most authors, poets, artists are ahead of their time. They usually are super sensitive persons and see and feel things which we do not. Of Course there are political, moralistic and what not. We read what we like. But the point is that your summary is excellent. I enjoyed it and will try to get the book. At moment I am reading Obama’s book. He is amazing and forthright.



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