Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart

Douglas Stuart’s first novel Shuggie Bain, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, is one of the most successful literary debuts of the century so far. Published or forthcoming in forty territories, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide. Now Stuart returns with Young Mungo, his extraordinary second novel. Both a page-turner and literary tour de force, it is a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a deeply moving and highly suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men.

Book blurb:

Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars—Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic—and they should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all. Yet against all odds, they 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. And when several months later Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.

Imbuing the everyday world of its characters with rich lyricism and giving full voice to people rarely acknowledged in the literary world, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.

My review:

(I listened to the audiobook version.)

Young Mungo is a gritty, unflinching, coming of age story that shocked me at times, and made me recoil in horror at the cruelty of this world. Beautiful Mungo is born into poverty in Glasgow to a selfish, alcoholic mother. His older brother is a street fighter, drug peddler and downright vicious. Only his sister, intelligent Jodie, shows him any love at all.

Mungo finds friendship and eventually love with James, but has to hide this from everyone, especially his own family. The story is told in two timelines. In the present, Mungo’s mother has sent him on a camping trip with two ex-cons, both of whom were inside for sex crimes, if you can believe that. The story takes us in alternative chapters into the past to hear about Mungo’s upbringing, his devotion to his horrendous mother and his manipulation by his brother.

This is not an easy story to listen to. Douglas Stuart doesn’t spare his readers the gory details. I had to listen to it over time while reading other books in between. It evoked so many emotions, especially abject horror at the behaviour of Mungo’s self-absorbed mother, the violence of the streets, the camping trip which was a recipe for disaster, and the cruelty of his brother.

I absolutely adored the ending, and would love to say something about it, but cannot without spoilers. You’ll just have to read it. But beware, trigger warnings for abuse, rape, violence, religious intolerance, homophobia – this is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted. However, it is also a story of hope and redemption, and there are moments that are beautiful and pure.

The narration was absolutely wonderful and although I bought the physical copy I am delighted that I was able to listen to this. Chris Reilly brought the characters and story to life with his wonderful voice.

About the author:

Douglas Stuart is a Scottish – American author and fashion designer. His debut novel, Shuggie Bain, won the 2020 Booker Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It won both the Debut of the Year, and the overall, Book of the Year, at the British Book Awards. Shuggie Bain is to be translated into thirty-eight languages.

In April 2022, he published his second novel, Young Mungo. He is currently at work on new writing.

His short stories, Found Wanting, and The Englishman, were published in The New Yorker magazine. His essay, Poverty, Anxiety, and Gender in Scottish Working-Class Literature was published by Lit Hub.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he has an MA from the Royal College of Art in London and an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. Since 2000, he has lived and worked in New York City, although he spends as much time in Glasgow as he can.


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