Douglas Stuart wins the Booker Prize with a novel about the Scottish working class

“Mr. Kilfeather was a lazy bastard; he liked working in the store with anyone who didn’t have to pay a full adult’s salary, and Shuggie found there the short shifts that suited his irregular schooling. In his dreams, he always intended to get ahead. She had always liked brushing and playing with her hair; It was the only thing that made his time fly. When he was sixteen he had promised himself that he would go to hairdressing school, the one south of the River Clyde. “

On the second page of the first chapter of the novel Shuggie Bain, in the manner of Charles Dickens with his childish characters, Douglas Stuart (44 years old) defines the confinement within the confinement, the lack of perspective for progress (hardly a modest profession) , which serves as an introduction to the misery of Glasgow circa 1980, under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. Such a catastrophic scenario involves Shuggie’s relationship with his mother, abandoned by her husband with three children, simulating a life out of decadence, going into debt, representing the denial of reality at the hands of alcoholism as an inevitable fatality.

This oppressive story about the Scottish working class, with a boy trying to rescue the great love that gave him life from the social well, failing; It also rescues the twists and turns of the English language, intonation, which highlights geographical differences as historical components of a displacement, a long exile both internal and external, which in the case of Stuart, led him to the world of fashion in New York ( designed for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic).

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Shuggie Bain’s nearly 450 pages won the Booker Prize, the most prestigious for books published in Great Britain and Ireland. Last Thursday, in an online ceremony, the winner was announced who will pocket £ 50,000 plus £ 2,500 for the shortlist. The jury consisted of Margaret Busby, Britain’s first black editor; Lee Child, writer, known for his Jack Reacher saga; Sameer Rahim, writer and critic; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; and Emily Wilson, professor of classical literature and translator.

With this conjunction of diversity, success, knowledge and cultural authority, the jury secured a political message to Boris Johnson, conservative prime minister, the target of criticism both for his controversial populist countenance and for his economic policies, a kind of burlesque reincarnation of the lady of iron.

But let’s go back to the book, itself the author’s first, also a memory of his own childhood. In Stuart’s words, it is not a portrait of the middle class, but of stark marginalization in poverty: “The people of Glasgow have tried hard, they are the most compassionate and generous people I have ever met. They’re also so humble that they have a dislike for anyone who thinks they’re having a hard time, because a lot of people had a hard time under Thatcher in the 1980s, and we were certainly all in it together. Mothers and grandmothers do not admit your complaints because you are having a bad time. Oh! When you don’t have the comfort of money, you are forced to deal with life head on, and sometimes love, humor, and optimism are all you can contribute to a bad situation. I think Glasgow is a city of reluctant optimists by default. How would we have survived otherwise? “

But in the historical fresco of how the miserable marked several generations, where Irving Welsh’s terrible Trainspotting echoes in parallel, this book carries a certain symbolic character of its own, even ironic: Shuggie Bain almost stares at the trains passing by. Despite being unpublished, Stuart was represented by a literary agent, Anna Stein, who got the novel’s editorial rejection 32 times until Grove Atlantic publisher Peter Blackstock bought the publishing rights. It should be noted that this publisher published Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, a novel that won the Booker Prize last year.

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In fact, Shuggie Bain came out in February of this year, in the midst of the pandemic, with an initial print run of 5,000 copies and little sales as a result, and yet it had a great critical media acceptance, including the designation as “best book to read in winter ”from Vogue magazine and Elle’s“ best book of the year ”, spaces of fashion marketing that, obviously, give recognition to a writer from the industry itself. As a political coronation, the Booker Prize ceremony featured Barack Obama, turned writer, exulting over the defeat of Boris Johnson’s lookalike, the canceled Donald Trump.


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