Young Mungo

Young Mungo

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 *** From Booker Prize-winner Douglas Stuart - Shuggie Bain ***

 

Review by Kerry

 

Young Mungo has seen Booker Prize winning author Douglas Stuart return to Glasgow. It is the 1990s where paralysing high unemployment mocks the very notion of a working class. On the housing estates hopes have curdled into bitter disappointment leaving alcohol the panacea of choice against boredom and frustration. Here organised sectarian warfare is an outlet for idle young men, Saturday’s entertainment, ”fuckin’ good fun.“ The brutal clashes between urban clans celebrated as displays of hyper masculinity. Against this dangerous backdrop 15 year old Protestant Mungo falls in love with Catholic James.

 

Until now Mungo has been walking a tightrope - balancing his love for his sister Jodie who has grown to despise their alcoholic mother against his heartbreaking need to make his Mo-Maw happy, excusing her failures while anxiously picking at his face and fending off his warlord brother Hamish’s attempts to make a man of him. In James, Mungo finds a friend who is just as lonely as he is, both boys intuiting that their sexuality sets them apart and makes them vulnerable – in their communities ‘they are not quite right‘ they have to keep their heads down. Together they dream of the possibility of a different life elsewhere, free from the hate and violence that stalks their streets.

 

Stuart’s prose ricochets with the brutality of those streets, this isn’t a romantic Romeo and Juliet love story, there is a very disturbing undercurrent that flows throughout.  In lesser hands this story could become just too gruelling but Stuart masterfully controls the tension throughout - the portrayal of innocence and the tenderness of touch is thrown into sharp relief by lines chocked with sexual violence. I was astonished by the selflessness and courage against all odds displayed by some characters while I wanted to weep at the narrow minded and selfish cruelty of others.

 

Like Shuggie Bain, Young Mungo isn’t a novel for the faint-hearted, it is gritty, menacing and challenging, as Stuart creates and gives voice to characters most readers will find uncomfortable. It is also a beautifully written, very tender coming of age novel where courage and the ideal of love gives hope.