Born under different stars—Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic—they should be sworn enemies if they're to be seen as men at all. Their environment is a hyper-masculine and sectarian one, for gangs of young men and the violence they might dole out dominate the Glaswegian estate where they live. And yet against all odds Mungo and James become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold.
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.
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.
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.