Born under different stars, Protestant Mungo and Catholic James live in the hyper-masculine and violently sectarian world of Glasgow’s housing estates. They should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all, and yet they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the doocot that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they begin to fall in love, they dream of escaping the grey city, and Mungo must work hard to hide his true self from those around him, especially his elder brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold.
But the threat of discovery is constant and the punishment unspeakable. When Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in western Scotland with two strange men behind whose drunken banter lie murky pasts he needs to summon all his inner strength and courage 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, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the meaning of masculinity, the push and pull of family, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.
Thank you to the publisher for the gifted proof copy of Young Mungo. It is no lie to say I squealed with delight and felt extremely lucky when this book landed through my letter box.
The dreaded second novel… and how to follow such an acclaimed debut as Shuggie Bain? Well ask Douglas Stuart because he has done just that! Young Mungo impressed me from the opening pages, when we met Mungo aged 15. With some similarities to its predecessor there will undoubtedly be some comparisons. Both books have a central male character who is ‘different’, living in poverty with a mother with significant alcohol problems, surrounded by violence and neglect.
But for me Young Mungo was a much more engaging story, perhaps because it was less broad, covering a brief time period in the life of our protagonist. We meet Mungo as he leaves home with 2 men on a fishing trip to a loch north of Glasgow, the book then moves between this trip and the preceding six months – the build up to what becomes clearer as Mungo’s expulsion.
In this book we get to know the Hamilton’s – Mo-Maw, Mungo’s young mum, with chronic alcohol problems, she struggles to accept her lot, to parent. Older brother, Hamish is a violent gang leader, undiscerning in his beatings but frequenting Mungo as a victim. And Josie, Mungo’s older sister and often mother figure, with intelligence, she has aspirations to leave, move up and make something of herself. If only she can survive this bit and make it to adulthood and independence.
Like Shuggie, this is a brutal and sad story of a hard life on the rough underbelly of Glasgow. Mungo is an endearing character, sweet and kind but navigating his life on a daily basis. He meets a boy – the wrong religion, the wrong gender, the wrong everything and shrouded in secrecy a love emerges. A fated love, for to be gay is to be ostracised, at best.
Part coming of age, part love story, part life story through the lens of alcoholism, this book was excellent. More readable than it’s predecessor and in Young Mungo I think, more heart. A sad story, devastating really but if you loved Shuggie Bain, you will love this one, and if you didn’t, well pick this one up because it is not the same and it is excellent in all its raw, brutal heartbreak.
About the Author
Douglas Stuart was born and raised in Glasgow. After graduating from the Royal College of Art, he moved to New York, where he began a career in fashion design. Shuggie Bain, his first novel, won the Booker Prize and both ‘Debut of the Year’ and ‘Book of the Year’ at the British Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the US National Book Award for Fiction, among many other awards. His short stories have appeared in the New Yorker and his essay on gender, anxiety and class was published by Lit Hub. He divides his time between New York and Glasgow. Young Mungo is his second novel.