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Publisher's Summary

This is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.

Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: She is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a philandering taxi-driver husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good - her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamourous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion’s share of each week’s benefits - all the family has to live on - on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. 

Agnes’ older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to care for her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Meanwhile, Shuggie is struggling to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that he is “no right”, a boy with a secret that all but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her - even her beloved Shuggie. 

A heartbreaking story of addiction, sexuality, and love, Shuggie Bain is an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction.

©2020 Douglas Stuart (P)2020 Dreamscape Media, LLC

What listeners say about Shuggie Bain

Average Customer Ratings
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There’s far too much real pain and sadness in the world to spend any time listening to this tale of woe

This is very well written, and the quality of the reader is great, except his dialect is sometimes so thick I had to rewind to get it right. The story is such a sad, tragic tale of an alcoholic woman who cannot and will not take care of her own children, nor herself, I just found myself angry all the time. Over all, I hated Agnes, hated the subject, and it drug on for far too long. I loved Shuggie, but the life he led was bold, italics, underline DEPRESSING! I really can’t think of one person I could recommend this audible to. But if I can keep someone from wasting 18 hours on it, then I will have done a good deed. You probably won’t believe me anyway because it has gotten many good reviews, but I really really REALLY hated it.

128 people found this helpful

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Just a sad story

Sad story of alcoholic mom and neglected abused children - not sure what got this to top ten book for NYTimes? Depressing book - perhaps because we do such a poor job addressing such tragic health issues..would not recommend unless you want to be depressed.

55 people found this helpful

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Glaswegians under Pressure

The characters in “Shuggie Bain” are remarkable. They are poor, oppressed, often mean and often drunk. But somehow, despite their cruelties, they are sympathetic.

Shuggie himself is a “not right” child, an effeminate boy living with his alcoholic mother, mostly near some shut coal mines in Glasgow. The novel follows Shuggie from age five through about 16, as his mother Agnes—the center of the story—struggles with loneliness, frustration and anger. Agnes carries herself with a “posh” style that fits her beauty but not her means. Shuggie’s taxi-driving father is mostly absent, and the neighbors treat the family with contempt.

Douglas Stuart portrays all his characters with fine detail, total realism and a deep understanding. I always believed in the truth of the story.

The narrator was excellent, with the right emotion and variations of voice. My only hesitation was his Scottish dialect, which could be hard to understand. He repeatedly mentions “Wayans,” for example, which I finally realized meant “wee ones.” But you catch on.

Overall, this was a moving drama that held my interest throughout.

50 people found this helpful

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Rather Interesting, Very Unfortunate

and Deeply Profound

I would have enjoyed this even more if I had been able to understand it all. As it was, between the narrator's heavy accent and the dialect, there was a LOT I missed. In fact, I had to read the first two chapters over three times to get the hang of it and adjust my listening ear. A sad tale of alcoholism, family, sexuality, poverty, and shame. 4.75 Stars

47 people found this helpful

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A masterpiece

The beautiful writing of this debut novel wraps tenderly the joyful protoganist, surrounded by so much dreadful sadness and despair. Few books I’ve read have moved me so greatly and challenged me so deeply on how I should be a father and husband. One of those that will live with you long long after you’ve finished it.

38 people found this helpful

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Incredible performance

Beautifully read and a touching story that is so humane and delicate, never maudlin. Highly recommend.

27 people found this helpful

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Fantastic Listen

Who would have thought story of abuse, alcoholism, bullying and poverty could not to boring and depressing? Narration is fantastic. Best book I have read/listened to in years.

22 people found this helpful

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A love story wrapped in tragedy and heart break.

The characters are so very real and live in such breathtaking circumstances. With all the pain Agnes causes and for all the damage that results her love for her son never wavers.

The descriptions of life on the edges of society are all to vivid and poignant.

19 people found this helpful

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One of the best

Everything about this audible selection hit the highest mark. A terrific story matched with a terrific narrator. This story will stay with me for a bit. Very well done!

18 people found this helpful

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A beautiful, sad but heartwarming story

Wow, I’d listen to this book just for the wonderful Scottish accents! But the story itself is just beautiful. If you liked Angela’s Ashes, but want something a bit warmer, this is a great choice.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Hamburgerpatty
  • 02-27-20

Haud ma fur coat while I bash her ...

I finished listening to the US edition of Shuggie Bain just a few minutes ago. Perhaps it's too soon to write a review about such a vital, heartwrenching, brilliantly observed novel. I was blown away and I wanted share right away my enthusiam for such important work. I'm sure many UK critics will say it's Trainspotting for the Glaswegians. Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting is a work of genius, but Shuggie Bain has a different focus and the reader or listerner will learn different lessons from Shuggie Bain. I can not praise this novel enough.

The action takes place in the 1980s when Glasgow's (and environs) traditional industries of shipbuiling, mining and steel were being kicked into oblivion by Thatcher's government. How this decline impacts on the lives of men who were used to performing hard manual labour and being celebrated for it is one of the novel's main themes. The author contrasts the lives of those men used to using their fists freely, to always be seen to do manly things (eg support the Gers or not), to view gays as threat to their own sense of manhood - with those changes of the 1980s. Men's sense of their place in a post industrial world was being redefined. Many of the men in the novel were ad hoc taxi drivers, living on their on the wits, or drowning and not waving.

My jaw kept dropping scene after scene after scene which involved women. He drews scenes with such sensory clarity as a reader I was there. The creaky floorboards, the shuggly windows, the smell of stale lager, the feel of that cheap hairspray, the quality of a Templeton's carpet. Also the Freeman's catalogue parties, the makeup, the drink, the bras, the weans, the scene in the petrol station and the loaf of bread and the tale of the woman whose husband came back from service in World War II to find another man's baby in his flat, Douglas Stuart understands women. He understands their need to dress to impress even though they might only have a tin of beans at home and six empty lager cans at home.

And he understands that bit of the Glaswegian character - where - if they like you, they'll give you the shirt off their backs, but if they want your shirt, it might be a different story. Whether involving men, women, children - throughout the novel is an strong undercurrent of 'does your mother sew? well stitch this violence'. You don't know when the next phyical or verbal attack will happen. Few characters are spared. Not even children.

I have said little about the main character young Shuggie Bain who knows he is 'different', but other than verbal, sexual and physical abuse is giving little guidance on how to live his life a young gay boy in such dire circumstances.

I would urge anyone who wants to understand how families become and stay trapped in poverty, how life might be for a poor family to live with an alcoholic parent, how they then survive in urban jungle and the how 1980s impacted on the working and underclass in our industrial cities then listen to Shuggie Bain.

Shuggie Bain is an eye-opening and heart-opening novel. It's not for the faint hearted.

Thank you Mr Stuart. Orra best.

PS Well done on being Longlisted for the Booker Prize! Well deserved. Shuggie Bain is a stunning novel.

PSS Well done on being Shortlisted for the Booker Prize!!

PSSS Well done on being nominated for the National Book Award.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Robinson
  • 01-10-21

Gritty and realistic

Excellent story of the life of the underclass in Glasgow in the late 80's...probably not that much different to now except there's more drugs.....desperately sad.

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  • Mags
  • 02-27-20

Loved this!

Shuggy Bain, sad but thought provoking. I worried and sympathised with this wee boy. Great book and well written. Loved the narration too!