It is, then, a testament to Douglas Stuart’s talent that all this literary history—along with the tough portraits of Glaswegian working-class life from William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Agnes Owens—can be felt in Shuggie Bain without either overshadowing or unbalancing the novel ... Stuart’s [has a] Grassic Gibbon–like ability to combine love and horror, and to give equal weight to both. Not only is Shuggie Bain dedicated to his mother, but in the acknowledgments he writes that 'I owe everything to the memories of my mother and her struggle'; he’s clearly determined to give all the contradictory aspects of that struggle their full due ... Stuart’s capacity for allowing wild contradictions to convincingly coexist is also on display in the individual vignettes that comprise the novel, blending the tragic with the funny, the unsparing with the tender, the compassionate with the excruciating ... Otherwise, the author is too generous—and, it would seem, too fond of his mother—for the central focus to lie anywhere but in the fierce, warm-hearted portrait of Agnes in all her maddening glory. As a result, this overwhelmingly vivid novel is not just an accomplished debut. It also feels like a moving act of filial reverence.
The body—especially the body in pain—blazes on the pages of Shuggie Bain . . . This is the world of Shuggie Bain, a little boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s. And this is the world of Agnes Bain, his glamorous, calamitous mother, drinking herself ever so slowly to death. The wonder is how crazily, improbably alive it all is . . . The book would be just about unbearable were it not for the author’s astonishing capacity for love. He’s lovely, Douglas Stuart, fierce and loving and lovely. He shows us lots of monstrous behavior, but not a single monster—only damage. If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains . . . The book leaves us gutted and marveling: Life may be short, but it takes forever
This is an instant classic. A novel that takes places during the Thatcher years and, in a way, defines it. A novel that explores the underbelly of Scottish society. A novel that digs through the grit and grime of 1980s Glasgow to reveal a story that is at once touching and gripping. Think D.H. Lawrence. Think James Joyce ... the American reader will need a Scottish to English dictionary to get through some of the local language ... well worth the slog through unfamiliar lingo. And the language is so well tuned that it transforms a working-class tale into a literary tour de force ... a novel that will capture your interest from the first page and immerse you in a world from which you want to escape but from which, like its protagonist, you can’t. There are characters you will hate and characters you will come to love ... realism at its best: a picture of the world as it is for those stuck in circumstances from which they cannot escape, one that relentlessly strives for redemption. Don’t expect a happy ending, but do expect to find yourself engrossed in a story that will leave you both wowed and numb.
... his novel is resolutely, wonderfully Scottish at heart ... such a delight. Rarely does a debut novel establish its world with such sure-footedness, and Stuart’s prose is lithe, lyrical and full of revelatory descriptive insights. This is a memorable book about family, violence and sexuality ... Agnes is drawn with extraordinary sympathy: she simply leaps from the page as she juggles motherhood, a violent and philandering husband and her own demons, drink foremost among them. She is troubled, lovable, vulnerable and resilient ... This is a deeply political novel, one about the impact of Thatcherism on Glaswegian society ... It is brilliant on the shame of poverty and the small, necessary dignities that keep people going. It is heartbreakingly good on childhood and Shuggie’s growing sense of his otherness, of not being the same as the other boys on the estate ... Douglas Stuart has written a first novel of rare and lasting beauty.
...with Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart’s avowedly autobiographical first novel, Barrie has some competition at last ... It is, then, a testament to Douglas Stuart’s talent that all this literary history—along with the tough portraits of Glaswegian working-class life from William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, and Agnes Owens—can be felt in Shuggie Bain without either overshadowing or unbalancing the novel ... Stuart says that he considers Shuggie Bain 'a queer novel' ... Otherwise, the author is too generous—and, it would seem, too fond of his mother—for the central focus to lie anywhere but in the fierce, warm-hearted portrait of Agnes in all her maddening glory. As a result, this overwhelmingly vivid novel is not just an accomplished debut. It also feels like a moving act of filial reverence—if not, perhaps, of the sort that J.M. Barrie would have recognized.
... a heart-wrenching tale that unfolds and unravels across 400 pages and more than a decade of love, loss, and pride ... Douglas’s sharp narrative perspective moves from character to character, depicting each internally and externally with astute grace, giving a complex understanding of the dynamics of the Bain family ... Readers stay hooked to see which, if any, characters will get what they want, often receiving heart-breaking results ... The circumstances are so vividly rendered, heightening the state of turmoil and desire ... a master class in depicting the blinding dedications of love and the endless bounds to which people will go to feel in control, to feel better. It hopefully sets the tone for more beautifully devastating works of fiction to follow from Stuart in the future.
... it didn’t really work for me ... Yes, Stuart’s prose flows very smoothly, reminding me at times of one of Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell’s ’80s horror novels, minus the supernatural monsters, startling imagery, and, too often, the subtlety ... mostly Shuggie Bain is the 'Readers’ Wives' version of a heritage novel. A poverty porn parade of violent grotesques. Like Martin McDonagh doing Billy Elliot ... It is remorselessly prosaic and constantly evasive. It is surrounded by and full of things it cannot or will not say, and those silences are repeatedly betrayed by the things it must say in order to say what it wants to say. And the novel becomes most interesting at those precise moments when it turns away from the world beyond its milieu and turns in on itself. On the one hand, these refusals help to produce the sense that the novel is a kind of slum tourism ... On the other hand, those moments of disconnection, when Shuggie Bain shies away from thinking about the contexts of the story it tells, are entry points into the novel’s Anthropocene unconscious ... No matter how much Stuart sets aside, ignores, is unaware of, or suppresses that history—however much he selects these particular words and sentences, patterns and themes, and rejects those others—the novel still bears its traces.
... a moving and memorable story of family, class, sexuality, and hope, filled with captivating, difficult characters ... Loneliness and melancholy fill the novel like damp air, but there are also moments of joy— glimpses of beauty and love in the brokenness— like several memorable scenes where Agnes turns on the radio and dances with Shuggie ... But Stuart shows us how deep the gulf between who we are inside and who we are when we face the world can become. When do our opportunities to reinvent ourselves run out? ... Stuart’s characters are so captivating, their humanity so richly realized, that we gaze into their inner selves fully and intimately. He approaches his serious subject with tenderness and compassion— powerful and palpable as the characters’ lives are in Stuart’s masterful treatment of them, we cannot help but take them into our hands.
It is a novel that seems almost more comfortable in a previous century than in our own no metafictional contortions, no genre-dabbling, no M.F.A.-burnished shine ... most of all Shuggie Bain is a fat doorstop trudge of perseverance through the alcoholic grimness of poverty and addiction ... It speaks in a Scottish English whose rhythms, even whose vocabulary, can be alien for American readers: misty with smirr and dusty with stour, its bruisers glaikit in their foolishness, gallus in their pride ... Stuart’s project as a writer is in part about clearing space for tenderness among men, space for love.
... [a] compulsively readable debut novel ... In exquisite detail, the book describes the devastating dysfunction in Shuggie’s family, centering on his mother’s alcoholism and his father’s infidelities, which are skillfully related from a child’s viewpoint. It also shows how daily trauma within the family wrecks a child’s psyche ... As it beautifully and shockingly illustrates how Shuggie ends up alone, this novel offers a testament to the indomitable human spirit. Very highly recommended.
Reading Shuggie Bain cannot but be a grim experience ... comes from a deep understanding of the relationship between a child and a substance-abusing parent, showing a world rarely portrayed in literary fiction, and to that extent it’s admirable and important. I had qualms, about Shuggie’s precocity and particularly about the depiction of women, who are all scrawny or flabby, wearing too much makeup or not enough, and whose clothes are always wrong...Stuart’s prose is baroque, rich in adjectives with a habit of pointing out what he’s just shown. These things are partly a matter of taste and training, but sometimes impatience with the heavy-handed prose interrupted my interest in Shuggie and Agnes.
With his exquisitely detailed debut novel, Douglas Stuart has given Glasgow something of what James Joyce gave to Dublin. Every city needs a book like Shuggie Bain, one where the powers of description are so strong you can almost smell the chip-fat and pub-smoke steaming from its pages, and hear the particular, localized slang ringing in your ears ... although it’s depicted as poverty-stricken, miserable, and dark, the book is also a love letter of sorts to Glasgow. It’s a portrait of a city ravaged by Margaret Thatcher’s government that is both unflinchingly authentic and poignantly tender ... One of the most interesting aspects of Shuggie Bain is the way it exposes the subtle gender flip that occurred as a result of mass unemployment ... Stuart touches upon this with a light but laser-sharp eye ... the women are vividly drawn creations that render the full force of Stuart’s extraordinary descriptive power ... Agnes...is the real heroine of this story, so evocative and striking that she may be one of those characters you never forget. Stuart writes about Shuggie, a lonely, loving boy struggling with his sexuality, with skill. But the depiction pales in comparison to the sheer, knock-out force of what he managed to create with Agnes ... Shuggie Bain is full of people doing and saying awful things to one another all the time, but nobody really seems truly awful. Maybe this is what makes the novel so powerful and sad—it turns over the ugly side of humanity to find the softness and the beauty underneath.
Most readers will find the novel compelling, especially those who have loved and tried to help an alcoholic parent or close relative ... But because of its memoir-like quality, this is more than just another hard-luck story about the damaging effects of alcoholism ... Stuart has an eye for precisely honed language and an ear for its harmonies. His chapters are composed of vivid, sensuous anecdotes meant to grab readers emotionally ... Stuart paints Agnes vividly as she emulates her heroine, the actress Elizabeth Taylor ... But Stuart reveals little about Agnes’s interior life, even though about two-thirds of the narrative focuses on her—which seems a flaw in this book and one that may explain why so many publishers rejected it. In fact, Stuart provides more insight into Big Shug than he does into Agnes, even though he is less significant to the story ... Stuart’s powerful depiction of Shuggie gives this narrative a redemptive quality that rises above its episodes of negligence, anger, and sectarianism. It is about love and loyalty, in spite of everything, but finally it is about grace.
...as intense and excruciating to read as any novel I have ever held in my hand ... The heartbreaking futility of this, the boy’s perpetual state of anxiety and dread, is almost unbearable ... It is grindingly, terribly real — and nearly too much ... The book’s evocative power arises out of the author’s talent for conjuring a place, a time, and the texture of emotion ... This is a hard, grim book, brilliantly written and, in the end, worth the pain which accompanies reading it.
Douglas Stuart drags us through the 1980s childhood of 'a soft boy in a hard world' in a series of vivid, effective scenes. We get a rounded picture of Shuggie ... Stuart writes emotion well...and doesn’t let up with the grisly details, to the extent that this can at times achieve an over-the-top flavour: a 15-year-old with dentures! Pawning your son’s belongings for drink! ... Stuart does tend to overegg the tragedy, and occasionally puts his own eloquence into the characters’ mouths ... But don’t look too closely and you will be swept along by the emotional surface, and there is occasional blunt comedy to provide welcome relief. Shuggie Bain is a novel that aims for the heart and finds it. As a novel it’s good, as a debut very good, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it progress from Booker longlist to shortlist. I’ll buy you a drink if it doesn’t.
[An] arresting debut ... Stuart does such a judicious job balancing her portrait between helpless bathos and a very fragile kind of motherly love that Agnes never loses her power to fascinate, despite having the alcoholic’s intense predictability ... Running alongside all this is the decidedly more muted story of our title character, who’s never allowed the sharp interiors of Agnes ... too often it leaves Shuggie a passive and one-dimensional figure in a book with his name as its title ... It’s to Stuart’s credit that he opts for a more nuanced third way, and it’s one of many things to his credit in this very strong debut. The story is filled with evocative prose and instantly memorable characters, and it gives readers a Glasgow as real as anything in their own life.
Stuart’s anxious novel is both a tragedy and a survival story. Shuggie is as neglected as Glasgow, but through his mother’s demise, he discovers his strength. Shuggie Bain celebrates taking charge of one’s own destiny.
[Shuggie Bain] has already been hailed as a masterpiece, almost always a premature judgement. It isn’t that, but it is a very good and often moving novel, which would have been better still with some scrupulous editing, for it’s about a quarter too long ... It is in many ways a harsh, bleak novel, for that decade was a harsh and bleak time in Glasgow ... What redeems the novel and makes it remarkable is that its central theme is love – a caring, responsible love ... The relationship between Agnes and Shuggie is beautifully, tenderly and understandingly done. Stuart doesn’t sentimentalise it and he hides nothing of the horrors of galloping alcoholism, but there is a gallantry about Agnes which commands respect and admiration, however reluctantly. There are even moments of hope ... In treating of the bond between the mother and the boy, Stuart writes with sympathy and with a tenderness that contrasts sharply with the brutality of much that he presents. It even seems appropriate that Shuggie, though reared in this coarse world, should speak with a certain delicate refinement, rather as Dickens has his boy heroes ... There are of course echoes of other Glasgow writers, Archie Hind, Alan Spence and James Kelman, but it is in no sense derivative. It’s a case of playing off and against the influence of others. There is humour here too, of a dark dry sort, and it’s a novel that deserves, and will surely often get, a second reading. It deserves better proof-reading too.
... vibrant, sinewy ... sounds like the stuff of misery memoirs, but Stuart has turned this life into something more like a Breughel painting, stuffed with detail, vitality, humour and people who live at the tops of their voices ... From the get-go, Shuggie Bain is unflinchingly exact about the minutiae of poverty ... terrific.
Titling the novel after Shuggie rather than the woman who dominates him seems like small gesture of defiance on Mr. Stuart’s part. Shuggie is a pariah twice over, both because of his allegiance to his mother and because of the effeminate tendencies that single him out to bullies and sexual predators ... Both are legion in the novel’s unvarnished characterization of Glasgow’s slums ... If the portrayal is unsparing, it is also familial, because Mr. Stuart vividly inhabits the city’s singular 'Weegie' dialect and vocabulary ... But most of all, Shuggie Bain is a novel of addiction, and as is the way with addicts, Agnes belligerently demands the bulk of the book’s attention. There is a powerful, if wearying, consistency in her perpetual relapses, her outrageous lies and public spectacles, as well as in Shuggie’s thwarted attempts to get out from under her. It’s the obstinate Bain pride that prevents this novel from becoming a wallow in victimhood and gives it its ruined dignity. Agnes will suffer any humiliation for a drink, but she’ll give you an earful at the first suggestion of pity.
The Scottish novelists have it in for clear plotlines, for gentle or melancholy stories, for bourgeois destinies, for old-fashioned or boring narrative systems. They write spectacularly well about drunkenness, drug-induced antics, long nights wandering in the lower depths, states of alienation, bad sex. This is the tradition out of which Douglas Stuart writes ... In a Scottish novel, if there is a dream of better public housing, it will end in a high-rise slowly falling apart, just like the buildings that house the Bain family, which are desolate and badly constructed. And, in Scottish fiction, if there is a line of dialogue, it will be filled with the flavor of demotic Scottish speech. Stuart, in Shuggie Bain , is particularly skilled at creating a credible, energetic, living speech for his Scottish characters ... Shuggie Bain is peppered with Scottish usage ('gallus'; 'foustie'; 'smirring'; 'huckled'). This adds to the sense of gritty truth in the book and to the feeling that the novel is not being written to explain Scotland to outsiders ... On the surface, the novel is unremittingly bleak ... Against this, however, there is an undercurrent that becomes more and more powerful, as Stuart, with great subtlety, builds up an aura of tenderness in the relationship between the helpless Shuggie and his even more helpless mother.
... this is a book that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until it has wrung out all the wildly oscillating emotions — joy, sorrow, anger, disenchantment, passion, desire, envy, hate, disappointment, and a strange, luminous love — that make up the exhilarating, if sometimes exhausting, experience of reading this dizzying rollercoaster of a novel ... much more than a filial love story. Populated with a cast of characters who are as loveable as they are — sometimes — despicable, covering a span of a little over a decade, and set among several generations of the labouring poor of Glasgow, Shuggie Bain casts an unremitting light on those who exist on, or, all too often, under, the fringes of society ... But to imagine that a novel dealing with lives that are often solitary, inevitably poor, frequently nasty, intermittently brutish, and all-too-often short, is bound to make for grim reading will be to do Shuggie Bain wrong, for one of the wondrous things about Stuart is his ability to show not just the humour that lies beneath the grimness of existence, but also the kindness, empathy, and grace that illumine lives lived on the edge. In large part this has to do with the way in which the city of Glasgow comes alive in Stuart’s supple, sudden, evocative prose, throwing up the contradictions of a city reeling under the onslaught of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory abandonment of the urban underclass ... wholly believable. It is this that makes his characters come to life: in Shuggie Bain people live, and love, and sometimes die, in ways that — for all their distance and strangeness from us — we can all-too-readily identify with ... This may be a tale set in a strange city, in times that are receding from memory, but in its humour, its pathos, its depiction of love in all its weird and wonderful avatars and, above all, in its assertion of the essential humanity that resides within every single one of us, no matter how flawed or damaged we may be, Shuggie Bain speaks straight to the heart.
The words 'powerful', 'compelling' and 'a universal story' are used in many book reviews. Rarely are they as appropriate as when applied to Shuggie Bain. Douglas Stuart's transcendent debut novel might be set in the bleakest reaches of Glasgow in the 1980s, but the characters that pop and crackle and snap in Scottish dialect from its pages are people we know: people with fatal flaws and lovable eccentricities; people trying by whatever means possible to crawl through to the end of each grinding day; people fed and fuelled by the illusion of a better tomorrow. They are us ... No matter whether you are in Durban or Darfur, every human in this book will rip out your heart and wring tears from your eyes ... simultaneously heartbreaking and spirit-lifting.
Seeing the world through these characters’ eyes demands a lexicon of low expectations. Rape, abuse, molestation are shown in all their ugliness, but not named ... Stuart has written that his own mother was an addict, and he dedicates this novel to her. In his fiction, the scenes of Agnes’s downfall are pitch-perfect: bitter, humiliating, but never judgmental ... Stuart’s writing can over-enunciate the emotive socio-economic failings...but much more often, delights lie in unexpected places ... this is a dysfunctional love story — an interdependence whose every attempt to thrive is poisoned whenever a drink is poured — but here, between a boy and his mother. Stuart’s debut stands out for its immersion into working-class Glaswegian life, but what makes his book a worthy contender for the Booker is his portrayal of their bond, together with all its perpetual damage.
Set in the 1980s Glasgow of Stuart’s youth, it’s the terrifically engrossing tale of Hugh, or Shuggie, a young boy trying his best to take care of his alcoholic mother, Agnes, in a housing scheme on the city’s periphery ... a gut-twisting story of drink and debt, care and survival, as well as sexuality and difference, with Shuggie increasingly ill at ease in his aggressively masculine environment ... Stuart...has a flair for scene-making, with some truly grim moments, and although he leaves plenty of room for light as well as shade, the book lingers as a portrait of a blighted community in which lost childhood is the norm ... A cracking coming-of-age story — a survivor’s tale you won’t be able to put down.
... arresting ... Stuart does such a judicious job balancing her portrait between helpless bathos and a very fragile kind of motherly love that Agnes never loses her power to fascinate, despite having the alcoholic’s intense predictability ... gorgeously harrowing descriptions of the Glasgow underworld of a generation ago ... Running alongside all this is the decidedly more muted story of our title character, who’s never allowed the sharp interiors of Agnes; even talented, deeply damaged Leek is far more intrinsically interesting. It’s as though Stuart assumes that merely making Shuggie gay in a Spartan and hateful environment tells readers as much as they’re likely to want to know about him, and given the wide acclaim accorded to some wire-thin gay novels in the last few years, this may be a good assumption. But it’s not particularly good storytelling, and too often it leaves Shuggie a passive and one-dimensional figure in a book with his name as its title ... This impression is strengthened by the author’s weakness for artificially heightened contrasts. It’s not just that the new Bain neighborhood is a damp, drafty, sooty hell of cheap worker’s homes, it’s that all the inhabitants are subhuman troglodytes, the women squinty-eyed and hostile, the children almost entirely feral, and the husbands ghosts out of Homer’s Hades, however beautifully described ... Little wonder, and precious little guessing as to how it will all work out: either violence or Hollywood marzipan. It’s to Stuart’s credit that he opts for a more nuanced third way, and it’s one of many things to his credit in this very strong debut. The story is filled with evocative prose and instantly memorable characters, and it gives readers a Glasgow as real as anything in their own life. There are even glimmers of hope, though very faint.
Characters are not built up and then broken down; instead, the tragedies of each chapter immediately and methodically eat at the reader’s emotional pulp, leaving nothing but a rind of numbness ... That’s not to say that the path to numbness is instant — the uninitiated reader faces a grueling experience with the opening chapters. In fact, I was overcome by lightheadedness and nausea and had to put the novel down for numerous days after a vividly violent depiction of a rape in the second chapter. But Stuart’s prose, almost too clear and easy to read for the subject matter it conveys, drives the reader to continue against the best interest of their mental state ... Stuart doesn’t care that he already has the reader pinned; the punches just keep coming, pounding the reader’s emotions into a deeper and deeper comatose state ... And that just becomes the state of affairs. Any one of the traumatic events that Stuart regularly pens could be the foundational obstacle of the protagonist of another book, but their relentlessness in Shuggie Bain drives the reader towards near-indifference. Sure, one could continue reading each chapter with hope, but, in the name of self-care, brace themselves for the inevitable calamity that will meet them. This preemptive repression keeps the reader from appreciating the sparse morsels of redemption and good fortune that the family experiences ... Stuart’s approach was not doomed to fail, but the barrage of tragedy simply became overwhelming in conjunction with the novel’s 430 pages. Perhaps I could have allowed the novel’s full weight to hit me with a smaller serving size, but it became too much to perpetually pull myself up by my emotional bootstraps, knowing that I would be methodically and even more intensely undone over the course of the lengthy remainder of the novel. I felt as though I had to implement defense mechanisms just as the novel’s characters did, if I were to live vicariously through them ... This was no result of a lack of foresight on behalf of Stuart — with emotional resonance for a foreign subject matter being so difficult to evoke, particularly in a debut novel, it would be unfair not to give Stuart praise for injecting his novel with too much of this resonance ... Even if Shuggie Bain offered full chapters where I could breathe easily as opposed to its more common paragraph or sometimes few page oases of relative peace, I may have enjoyed it more in light of current circumstances. But if you need a break — an escape — like I do, you might want to wait until a vaccine has become available before picking up this novel.
Much of the story is excruciating ... The story is unrelenting...The writing, however, is often exquisite; its mode realism with gothic touches ... There is much that’s lovely about this writing, with its control and precision, and the child’s-eye images ... early in the novel, it’s difficult to tell whether the book has a darkly comic heart. The answer is: not really ... Moments of levity tend to lapse into something awful ... When Shuggie’s older siblings talk about their aspirations...they sound a bit like characters in a Bruce Springsteen song or a young adult novel. It wouldn’t be right to describe Shuggie Bain as a book for children, as the critic Jessa Crispin recently said of Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. But like those books it has a didactic fairy-tale quality. To the extent that it engages in adult psychology, the mentality portrayed is either vicious and predatory (Shug) or victimised (Agnes) ... All this pathos tips into bathos ... the scope of the book never really widens beyond Agnes’s drinking. The city is glimpsed, as are Shuggie’s emerging artistic sensibilities and sense of his own sexuality, but only just ... In the final third of the novel, the gothic elements of Stuart’s realism fall away – though there is more molestation and sexual assault to come – and the book begins to feel like a therapeutic memoir informed by the coping techniques of survivors.
... never devoid of hope. A year of sobriety demonstrates all that Agnes can achieve. And the love between mother and son is heartbreaking in its tenderness ... There are some problems with voice. Stuart can slip unsteadily between the close and more distant third person, putting unlikely thoughts and phrases in the heads of his characters. Shuggie’s precocity occasionally strains at plausibility, and for all her vivacity, Agnes does feel rather remote. We rarely get under her skin. This may be to true to Shuggie’s perspective, and perhaps to Stuart’s own, but it can frustrate the reader. There is a bit of overwriting. Adjectives are used liberally and, among the many brilliant similes, there is the odd duff note, or eccentricity. We are shown much and told a fair bit too ... beneath the desperation, misery and stour, is a city teeming with life, and a cast of characters vivified by sharp dialogue, rich, dark humour and driven by the irrepressible instinct for human contact and, in a certain sense, transcendence. If it reads like a slice of social history, with its television meters and anti-Thatcher graffiti, then the struggles it describes remain all too contemporary.
The way Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting carved a permanent place in our heads and hearts for the junkies of late-1980s Edinburgh, the language, imagery, and story of fashion designer Stuart’s debut novel apotheosizes the life of the Bain family of Glasgow ... In indelible, patiently crafted vignettes covering the next 11 years of their lives, we watch what happens to Shuggie and his family. Stuart evokes the experience of each character with unbelievable compassion ... You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.
... [a] harrowing debut ... While the languid pace could have benefited from condensing, there are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness. This bleak if overlong book will resonate with readers.