Scottish writer Douglas Stuart wins Booker Prize

Updated 20 Nov 2020

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This handout image released by the Booker Prize on November 19 shows Scottish writer Douglas Stuart. — AFP
This handout image released by the Booker Prize on November 19 shows Scottish writer Douglas Stuart. — AFP

LONDON: Scottish writer Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for fiction on Thursday for Shuggie Bain, the story of a boy’s turbulent coming of age in hardscrabble 1980s Glasgow.

Stuart, 44, won the prestigious 50,000 pound ($66,000) award for his first published novel, the product of a decade of work. He was the only UK-born author on a US-dominated list of six finalists for the prize, which is open to English-language novels from around the world.

A fashion designer who is based in New York, Stuart drew on his own experience growing up gay in economically ravaged Thatcher-era Glasgow for the story of young Shuggie and his relationship with his alcoholic mother, Agnes. Stuart dedicated the book to own mother, who died when he was 16.

“My mother is in every page of this book, and without her I wouldn’t be here and my work wouldn’t be here,” said Bain, who declared himself absolutely stunned to win.

The novel’s sweep, vivid characters and unflinching look at poverty have been compared to the work of Charles Dickens.

Publisher and editor Margaret Busby, who chaired the judging panel, said Shuggie Bain was intimate and gripping, challenging but hopeful in its exploration of Shuggie’s burgeoning sexuality and the complex but loving relationship between mother and son.

“It’s hard to come away from that book without thinking this is going to be a classic,” she said.

In contrast to last year, when deadlocked judges split the prize between Canada’s Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Britain’s Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other, this year’s decision was quick and unanimous.

Busby said there were no tantrums among the judges, who included poet Lemn Sissay and thriller writer Lee Child.

Stuart was chosen from a shortlist dominated by US-based writers from diverse backgrounds. Ameri­can contenders included The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste; Diane Cook’s dystopian tale The New Wilderness; Avni Doshi’s India-set mother-daughter tale Burnt Sugar; and Brandon Taylor’s campus novel Real Life, which explores racism and homophobia in academia. The other contender was This Mournable Body by Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2020