Douglas Stuart the novel that was rejected 32 times wins prestigious Booker Prize

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Author Douglas Stuart won the Booker prize with his poignant debut. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP
Author Douglas Stuart won the Booker prize with his poignant debut. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP

“I am always looking for tenderness in the hardest places,” says Douglas Stuart, the New York-based fashion designer whose heartwrenching debut, Shuggie Bain, has won the 2020 Booker Prize.

His novel was rejected 32 times before being accepted for publication. Like Shuggie, Douglas Stuart was born and grew up in poverty in Glasgow and he too had an alcoholic mother to whom he was close.  

“If you’ve ever loved someone with addiction,” the 44-year-old author told, “you’ve developed a lot of strategies to save them from themselves and also to protect yourself. My mother always felt so hard done-to in life and so overlooked — she was never voiceless, but she felt voiceless, I think, because men and society didn’t want to hear from poor women in the ’80s. Too ugly to look at, too uncomfortable to even comprehend. And so I used to sit down and I would say, ‘Let me write your book.’” 

He says his mother would have been “thrilled” by his Booker success and he thanked her in his acceptance speech.

After his mom’s death when he was 16 Douglas lived with his older brother and then on his own in a boarding house. He never knew his father. His mother taught him to knit and he went on to earn a master’s degree in menswear at the Royal College of Art in London. A career at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren in New York followed. 

Douglas recently completed his second novel, Loch Awe, a love story about two boys on opposite sides of sectarian violence in 1990s Scotland. 



Shuggie Bain


By Douglas Stuart


Anyone embarking on this wonderful novel needs to be prepared to have their heart broken and their soul uplifted at the same time.

This is the story of Shuggie Bain, a sweet young boy grappling with his sexuality in the unrelentingly grim poverty of 1980s Glasgow. His mother, Agnes, is a beauty, the “Elizabeth Taylor” of her downtrodden community. She’s also a raging alcoholic.

Shuggie’s dad is a brutal, philandering taxi driver who abandons Agnes and her children in a mining village outside the city, a viper’s nest of vicious housewives and feral children. His sister escapes the misery but our hero and his artistic older brother Leek spend their lives trying to keep Agnes off the drink.

A year of blissful sobriety is broken when Agnes meets another taxi driver, the well-meaning Eugene who gets her back on the booze and sends her on the downward spiral that ends in tragedy. 

This novel is not for the faint-hearted. Themes of rape, addiction and deprivation course through the pages as Shuggie tries desperately to save his mother. Theirs is one of the most beautifully drawn mother-son relationships I have ever read. If you loved Angela’s Ashes you’ll adore Shuggie Bain. A deserving Booker Prize winner. – SANDY COOK

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