Life in the sandstone tenements and government high-rises of post-industrial Glasgow is no less miserable in Young Mungo’s 1990s than it was in Shuggie Bain’s 80s ... But if at first many of the elements—heightened here, toned-down there—seem gruesomely familiar, Young Mungo gradually becomes a catastrophic world of its own, amplifying the achievement of Stuart’s spectacular debut ... Structurally, this second novel is more ambitious than the first. Stuart runs two alternating narrative lines that must finally converge ... Across the 800 pages of his two novels, Stuart has been inking a great Hogarthian print, a postmodern Scottish Gin Lane. He can be sardonically funny ... Scottish diction—'weans' for children; 'boak' for vomit; 'cannae' for 'can’t'—is dappled onto the novel with a vivid sparingness, enough to enhance the unique geography ... the most exceptional feature of Young Mungo and Shuggie Bain may be the way the books avoid any feeling of autofictional self-pity, no matter that Stuart himself sprang from their milieu ... There is right now no novelist writing more powerfully than Douglas Stuart.
Young Mungo, like its predecessor, is a nuanced and gorgeous heartbreaker of a novel. Reading it is like peering into the apartment of yet another broken family whose Glasgow tenement might be down the road from Shuggie Bain's ... What's different about Stuart's new novel is its form: The outer frame here is a suspense story; a story not just of innocence lost, but slaughtered ... As he did so deftly in Shuggie Bain, Stuart takes us readers deep into the working class world of Glasgow—here, circa early 1990s—where jobs and trade unions have been gutted. Stuart, who grew up in this world...doesn't translate, but lets the life of the tenements make itself known though his precisely observed and often wry style ... We readers know none of this will end well, but it's a testament to Stuart's unsparing powers as a storyteller that we can't possibly anticipate how very badly—and baroquely—things will turn out. Young Mungo is a suspense story wrapped around a novel of acute psychological observation. It's hard to imagine a more disquieting and powerful work of fiction will be published anytime soon about the perils of being different.
... moving ... Stuart writes like an angel ... masterful ... if Stuart has not departed much from the scaffolding of his debut novel, he has managed to produce a story with a very different shape and pace ... The raw poetry of Stuart’s prose is perfect to catch the open spirit of this handsome boy, with his strange facial tics ... The way Stuart carves out this oasis amid a rising tide of homophobia infuses these scenes with almost unbearable poignancy ... Stuart quickly proves himself an extraordinarily effective thriller writer. He’s capable of pulling the strings of suspense excruciatingly tight while still sensitively exploring the confused mind of this gentle adolescent trying to make sense of his sexuality ... The result is a novel that moves toward two crises simultaneously: whatever happened with James in Glasgow and whatever might happen to Mungo in the Scottish wilds. The one is a foregone calamity we can only intuit; the other an approaching horror we can only dread. But even as Stuart draws these timelines together like a pair of scissors, he creates a little space for Mungo’s future, a little mercy for this buoyant young man.
Stuart writes beautifully, with marvelous attunement to the poetry in the unlovely and the mundane ... The novel is precise, primarily in rendering what is visible to the eye rather than in fine-grained interiority. Characters articulate almost everything they think and feel, and what they say is what they actually mean. Irony occurs in the gap between speech and reality, rather than the interstices of speech and thought ... The two plots sit oddly astride each other, generating suspense, but never quite cohering, especially when events turn toward the violent. And despite abundant narrative complications, the book’s most surprising and affecting moments are quieter.
... [a] bear hug of a new novel ... follows great cruelty with great tenderness ... has the same yeasty whiff of the autobiographical as the gorgeous Shuggie Bain, and the two share more than a little in common ... If you adored Shuggie Bain, in all its lively misery and lush detail, Young Mungo will please you on every page. If you didn’t, what’s wrong with you? ... Stuart oozes story. Mungo is alive. There is feeling under every word ... This novel cuts you and then bandages you back up. A few pages later — another slash. Yet Stuart doesn’t delight in misery the way writers such as Hanya Yanagihara seem to. Misery is just a necessary ingredient in his novels of sentimental education, the hit of salt that makes the sugar sing ... And oh, let’s not neglect the wide-armed pleasure.
Shuggie Bain is powerful but grueling, a repetitive, marathon depiction of alcoholism. But the crafted storylines in Young Mungo develop with purpose and converge explosively, couching all the horror and pathos within a tighter, more gripping reading experience—an impressive advancement, in other words, from an already accomplished author.
Young Mungo appears at first sight to be the second outing of a writer nervous of deviating from a winning recipe. Much of the novel’s social fabric and atmosphere is familiar ... This, though, is an altogether more accomplished novel, a touching story of forbidden love pursued in the face of sectarian violence with a plot that unfolds with all the urgency and dread of teenage yearning ... Where Shuggie Bain dwelt on captivity and the incorrigibility of its fallen characters, Young Mungo is about self-realisation and the possibility, however remote, of escape. The novel has some of the universal potency of a fairytale and it is a skilful thing to combine this, as Stuart does, with a very concrete sense of social reality.
Young Mungo, is a beautifully written novel about a Glaswegian boy caught up in the horrors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, religious conflict and poverty. It is also a more sentimental novel than Shuggie Bain, with a more predictable plot, so that at times it doesn’t really feel like a second novel at all: more like a promising first draft that had been left in a drawer until its author’s mammoth success made its publication inevitable. Which is not to say it is a bad book. Far from it. The writing...is always precise and alive ... the beauty of Stuart’s sentences contrasts with the bleakness of the world they describe ... There’s so much that’s great here.
If Young Mungo doesn’t raise the same immediate thrill as Shuggie Bain – the sense of discovering a new voice of coruscating brilliance – there’s a richer, deeper pleasure to be gleaned here. Young Mungo is a finer novel than its predecessor, offering many of the same pleasures, but with a more sure-footed approach to narrative and a finer grasp of prose. There are sentences here that gleam and shimmer, demanding to be read and reread for their beauty and their truth ... again, he brilliantly summons a family, brings them to vivid life on the page, makes us love them for all their faults ... I sobbed my way through Shuggie Bain and sobbed again as Young Mungo made its way towards an ending whose inevitability only serves to heighten its tragedy. If the first novel announced Stuart as a novelist of great promise, this confirms him as a prodigious talent.
Family-friendly adjectives do not always describe the yanking of certain heart strings in this lovely but occasionally overworked novel ... When Stuart errs, it’s on the side of excess. Many passages might have profited from being left as subtext. In these, it is as though Stuart has allowed the CliffsNotes version of Young Mungo to barge directly into the novel...This happens with increasing frequency, and it presents a riddle: When an author repeatedly insists on telling what he has already shown, is it because he doesn’t trust the reader’s attentiveness or because he questions his own effectiveness? Is it condescension or self-doubt? ... Stuart mixes the self-aware floridity and emotional Technicolor of a Douglas Sirk melodrama with the ambient violence of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. As Mungo undergoes one atrocity after the next — beatings, sexual assault, abuse and exploitation of every form — the specificity of each episode risks blurring into an aesthetic of generalized wretchedness ... There is crazy greatness in Young Mungo, along with corny lapses and moments with the expository flatness of a TV voice-over. Still, faulting a novel of this register for intemperance feels like faulting an opera for being 'too loud.' The volume is part of the point. Sometimes you wince. Often you exult.
...exhilerating, heartbreaking ... One novel can't stop an onslaught, but it can eloquently remind us of the disastrous consequences of ignorance and intolerance ... The book shares a few similarities with Shuggie Bain, but Young Mungo is more brutal, more suspenseful. Stuart reels out two story lines with equal attention to detail and emotion ... Stuart wrings immense tension from both story lines, infusing the novel with an edgy, relentless urgency. The language is gorgeous, poetic, expertly evoking the dour streets of Glasgow and its people ... Stuart shows us so much ugliness, but he offers a promise of hope, too. This book will hurt your heart, so reach for that hope. Sometimes it's all we can do.
...page-turning, beautifully written ... This book has a propulsion to it — it’s a page-turner, certainly — but that propulsion reinforces the plot and the characters ... It might be easy to cast judgment on their choices but for Stuart’s ability to write his characters with humanity and empathy — their circumstances aren’t easy, are fraught with poverty and sectarianism and violence. Leaving your community can leave you lonely ... In a narrative that weaves seamlessly back and forth between the camping trip and Mungo’s life before the trip, Stuart creates a world we can almost feel. Some of his lines can take a reader’s breath away as he finds ways of describing beauty even in misery ... It’s a place that still rings out with the working class voices we hear from so rarely in books. A place middle-class writers can’t write about.
Young Mungo, though immersive and rarely dull, emerges as a chaotic cousin to its straight‑shooting predecessor, and offers an altogether bumpier experience ... Stuart is a lucid storyteller, moving between the narratives with ease, but the novel is characterised by overkill and we are never trusted to get the message. Almost every paragraph seems to contain a redundancy – an extra bit of scene setting, or the near synonymous rephrasing of a well-established conceit ... Though Stuart is capable of economical effects, he elects to remind the reader of central dynamics and traits ... In third-person novels, a great deal rides on formulations that present thought and speech without accompanying quotation marks. But again and again, Stuart tries to smuggle in supplementary insight or information ... despite the multifarious frustrations, and even at its most overexplicit and overwrought, Young Mungo is the work of a true novelist. Bizarre technique cannot crowd out the energy of Stuart’s characters or the organic force of his teeming world. At times he recalls Dostoevsky, in whose work the powerful exists alongside the galumphing. Mungo’s predicament is piercing, and as the story draws to a close, a spectral beauty prevails.
... not really a sectarian romance story, but a rich and affecting group portrait of loneliness. Every character — from the widow to the warlord, the ostracised gay neighbour to the teenage mother — is horribly alone ... Yet, paradoxically, Stuart’s book feels richly abundant. It spills over with colourful characters and even more colourful insults. And like a Dickens novel it has a moral vision that’s expansive and serious while being savagely funny. Stuart has a gift for visual language too ... But Young Mungo’s many virtues don’t disguise the fact that Stuart is rearranging the core elements of Shuggie Bain (alcoholism, rape, neglect, homophobia, domestic abuse) with the same family dynamics too. A more serious flaw is the novel’s structure. The alternating timeline feels forced, the sadistic fishing trip used to ramp up the stakes ... Still, even in its slowest or most gratuitous moments, Young Mungo is never less than sincere. Stuart finds real joy in writing. He tells the Hamiltons’ story with such candour and companionability that I think most readers will stay loyal. His third novel should be a departure, too, set among the textile and crofting workers of the Outer Hebrides. I can’t wait.
... if Shuggie Bain was faintly guilty of prettifying the poverty for a middleclass readership, Young Mungo is a much tougher, less consoling book ... Events pile up far too quickly in the closing chapters, but Stuart is much more critical of his characters this time round — and his grimly beautiful novel is the more interesting for it.
... if Shuggie Bain was wrenching, Young Mungo is truly brutal in its exploration of forbidden love, bullying and abuse, and toxic masculinity run amok ... An excoriating study of how violence begets violence, a devastating story of how the abused and victimized become abusers or aggressors, Young Mungo can be almost impossibly painful to read. It lays bare how a rigid code of masculinity and calcified religious prejudice can brutalize selves, both bodies and souls, in ways whose visceral deformation is frankly difficult to witness. As one tragic event follows another, readers may feel overwhelmed with despair, weighed down by the bleak picture Stuart unwaveringly presents. And yet his writing is so magnificent and his young hero so endearingly, vibrantly alive that we soldier on through Mungo’s saga of endurance, weepingly inspired like watchers of a war zone, aching to assuage the survivor’s ache, yearning to rescue him from the predations of his enemies, his vindictive older brother, and finally his own darker impulses
The prose of the novel is flat...a plodding, low-realist style that shades frequently into unintentional hilarity ... The adventures of poor Shuggie...constitute a parade of misery ... The point of the fishing trip is, according to Mo-Maw, to 'make a man out of ye'. In a way it does; but poor Mungo has to suffer quite extensively before we get there. And so does the reader. Art, let me say at this point, is only partly about what you represent. It’s also very much about how you represent it. In other words, style matters ... Young Mungo has the aura of a deeply felt book; it often achieves a sombre pathos; but more often it wobbles messily back and forth across the unforgiving line that separates pathos from bathos.
[It] covers similar territory in its exploration of family dysfunction and gay identities on the sectarian, homophobic and often brutal streets of the author’s youth. However, while the fifteen-year-old Mungo’s saintliness provides some interesting narrative opportunities, it also poses serious questions about characterization that the earlier book was not forced to address – existential questions related to good and evil ... Herein lies the problem with this novel. Mungo is indeed a saint, after his fashion. He continually forgives his mother’s transgressions, no matter how callous, and in spite of Hamish’s systematic bullying, he feels nothing but tenderness for his brother ... while by this point many readers will be rooting for some kind of salvation, what is yet more difficult to reconcile, from a moral perspective, is whether or not the vengeful steps Mungo takes offer a just basis for the new life he desires.
Young Mungo is a form of self-plagiarism. One can tick off the common concerns: maternal alcoholism, sectarian violence, a burgeoning awareness of adolescent gay sexuality, poverty, rape, grooming, drugs, the poor quality of Glaswegian cuisine. It is as if the pack of cards marked 'themes' has been reshuffled ... The prose is fluent enough, but has a tendency towards the easy image ... There are some things of interest here. The relationship with James is done tenderly, although the prose again becomes pedestrian ... Young Mungo is not a bad book. It is a book that suffers from seeming as if it has already been read. Winning the Booker ought to give carte-blanche to an author. To choose to do what you have already done seems like a wasted opportunity.
... as affecting, original, and brilliantly written a novel as any we’ll see in 2022 ... From political hostilities to personal anguish, Stuart harmonizes his notes, pitch-perfect ... Young Mungo’s greatest triumph is Stuart’s prose. He leans into the colloquial quirks and beauties of Glaswegian voices, the opposite of posh Queen’s English but equally rich. There’s jazz and bounce in his sentences—his cadences are rollicking, his dialogue often comic—but also a meticulous precision; I counted exactly one edit-worthy clause in the entire novel. I felt the same frisson as when I read works by other leading innovators, among them Kevin Barry, Hilary Mantel, Arundhati Roy, Ali Smith, and Colson Whitehead ... There’s a hint of hope among Stuart’s exquisite sentences, as when the boy roams the Highlands, trying to escape his tormentors.
With tenderness and honesty, Young Mungo explores the reality of coming of age as a young gay man against the backdrop of a violently sectarian Glasgow in the 1990s. It’s also a necessary reminder of the all-too-recent prejudice and open violence LGBTIQA+ people endured. Stuart is gifted in his ability to capture both visceral dread and the sweet ‘guid-and-true’ glimmers of first love. Some particularly harrowing moments, which surpass Shuggie in their devastation, may have readers needing to put down the book, but just when you think the darkness is too much, Stuart switches to a golden moment of succour ... With its wonderful Glaswegian colloquialisms, lively characters and compelling, addictive pacing, Young Mungo is classic storytelling at its best. Read it if you love fiction that’s unafraid of big feelings, but prepare to have your heart broken too.
A searing, gorgeously written portrait of a young gay boy trying to be true to himself in a place and time that demands conformity to social and gender rules. Many details are specific to Glasgow, but the broader implications are universal. Stuart’s tale could be set anywhere that poverty, socioeconomic inequality, or class struggles exist, which is nearly everywhere. But it is also about the narrowness and failure of vision in a place where individuals cannot imagine a better life, where people have never been outside their own neighborhood ... Stuart has put working-class Glasgow on the literary map.
Anxious, propulsive reading ... In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain’s, if still spiked with startling similes, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow’s Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo’s tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence. Highly recommended.
Readers will be happy to learn that Stuart’s follow-up, Young Mungo, is even stronger than his first book ... a marvelous feat of storytelling, a mix of tender emotion and grisly violence that finds humanity in even the most fraught circumstances ... Some plot elements in Young Mungo may disturb, but all are sensitively rendered, and the simplicity of Stuart’s writing makes them all the more powerful. One of the myths of St. Mungo is that he once brought a dead robin back to life. No such restoration occurs in young Mungo’s hardscrabble life, but as Stuart shows, hope often lies where you least expect it.
... a gay bildungsroman suffused with drama and gorgeously realized emotion ... Stuart's depiction of a powerful, enveloping first love is rendered with stunning emotional clarity. No less poignant is the protagonist's relationship with his mercurial, alcoholic mother ... With the author's profound capacity for feeling and a canny sensitivity to the nuances of class and sexuality, Young Mungo confirms Douglas Stuart as an artist of rare talent.
... the work of an exquisitely talented writer whose inspiration has been yoked to a more developed sense of novelistic craft ... The narrative here has a more strategic duck and weave. Its structure lies coiled and primed to deliver the inevitable gut punch, and if some of the descriptive passages do resort to overkill (especially early on, where scattershot similes ricochet around at alarming speed) Stuart finds his aim and kills his darlings in short order. Certainly, it’s worth enduring passages that can seem a bit rich when Stuart is so attuned to imagining the realities of the poor ... One of the outstanding qualities Young Mungo shares with its predecessor is a penetrating focus on the textures and psychology of grinding poverty. Few writers can write about them with such luxuriousness as Stuart, and you might be tempted to think of him as an Alan Hollinghurst from the wrong side of the tracks ... There’s an incandescent vividness to his portrayal of characters shaped and shaded by the grime of their experience, and however blighted and horrible they may be, you never get a sense of grotesque or caricature. Quite the opposite. Even the villains in this book are never less than fully human – sometimes more monstrous for their moments of ordinariness or the way they might strike against type ... Stuart can write sentences to die for – his prose is alive, insightful, perfectly poised – and at his best (which is most of the time) he uses his formidable descriptive powers not to wallow in a desperate, violent, impoverished milieu, but to deepen our understanding and imagination of it ... There may be little comfort for a closeted young man struggling to survive in this rough-as-guts Glaswegian hood, but Mungo seizes what he can in secret, and we get the desolating solace of reading this tear-jerker filtered through the prism of Stuart’s gorgeous, incisive and emotionally powerful prose.
Astonishing ... Touching ... Stuart’s writing is stellar ... He’s too fine a storyteller to go for a sentimental ending, and the final act leaves the reader gutted. This is unbearably sad, more so because the reader comes to cherish the characters their creator has brought to life. It’s a sucker punch to the heart.
This author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner ... Romantic, terrifying, brutal, tender, and, in the end, sneakily hopeful. What a writer.