Douglas Stuart's debut novel Shuggie Bain, which took him around 12 years to complete, has bagged the 2020 Booker Prize from the shortlist consisting of authors like Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar, Brandon Taylor for Real Life, Diane Cook for The New Wilderness, Tsitsi Dangarembga for This Mournable Body, and Maaza Mengiste for The Shadow King.
Shuggie Bain (Grove Press, 2020) is the story of a young boy living in "working-class" Glasgow in the 1980s. Shuggie's mother, Agnes, grows addicted to alcohol after her philandering husband abandons their family of five. The three children grow up "trapped in a mining town decimated by Thatcherism". Yet Shuggie is the one who holds on to hope. In various interviews, Douglas Stuart has revealed that many elements of the story resonate with his real life. His own mother succumbed to her addiction when he was 16, and like his protagonist, Stuart also grew up in working class Glasgow of the 1980s.
Margaret Busby, chair of the Booker judges committee this year, predicts that the autobiographical novel is "destined to be a classic" for its themes of hope, sadness, and humour. "The poetic prose and the clear characterization and sense of place make this the number one," Lemn Sissay, one of the other judges, shared. About the characters that populate the story, journalist Sameer Rahim said, "...they lead us through the world and they are the spark of humanity that makes all the pain bearable." Interestingly, the Guardian has revealed that the novel was initially rejected by 30 editors.
The announcement ceremony last night included eminent personalities including Bernardine Evaristo, winner of last year's Booker Prize for Girl, Woman, Other, along with Thandie Newton and Stuart Campbell — two of the six actors who offered enticing voice renditions of the shortlisted novels in the weeks leading up to the announcement.
This year's longlist selection has been deemed the most diverse in Booker history till date, with most of the novels having been written by people of colour. Most of the books were also debuts. Such distribution was not part of their strategy, the judges confirmed. They pointed out that the prize should keep being this diverse in subsequent years, so that diversity becomes so common that it requires no special discussion.
As winner of the most prestigious literary prize in the UK, Douglas Stuart will be awarded GBP 50,000. For his publisher Grove Press, this means a significant boost in sales and prestige, along with the possibility of TV and film adaptations. Each of the shortlisted authors will also receive GBP 2,500.
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