Scottish author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize for fiction with his first novel “Shuggie Bain”, with judges saying his tale of love and alcoholism set in Glasgow in 1980s was destined to be a classic.
The 44-year-old Stuart, who wins €55,000 and is only the second Scot to have won the prestigious literary prize, said he was stunned.
The book, based on his own childhood, tells of a young boy growing up during tough years in Glasgow with a mother who is battling addiction. Stuart’s own mother died of alcoholism when he was 16.
“I think I’ve been clear that my mother is in every page of this book and without her I wouldn’t be here and my work wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“My mother unfortunately suffered with addiction and didn’t survive that addiction,” he told the award ceremony, which had to be mostly held remotely because of the UK lockdown.
“And so for 30 years I’ve carried an awful lot of sort of loss and love and pain, and I wanted really just to tell the story of what it was like to grow up queer in Glasgow, to grow up with a parent who you love but you couldn’t save.
“I know I’m only the second Scottish book in 50 years to have won and that means, I think, a lot for regional voices, for working-class stories, so thank you.
“Thank you to the people of Scotland, especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book. To all the readers who have just come out and let me know that Shuggie and Agnes have touched their lives, I can’t believe this, but the greatest gift is just to be able to connect with you.”
Stuart, who works in fashion in the US, said: “I always wanted to be a writer, so this is about fulfilling a dream that was furloughed.
“Young boys like me growing up in 80s Glasgow, this wasn’t anything I ever would have dreamt of and, in fact, I was sort of turned away from English and academia towards textiles, which was a much more employable trade.”
Margaret Busby, the chair of judges, said the novel was gracefully and powerfully written. “Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic – a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values,” she said.
Among those who contributed to the ceremony were former US president Barack Obama, who said reading had offered a brief respite from the daily challenges of the presidency.
Mr Obama addressed the ceremony via a pre-recorded video message.
“I’ve always turned to writing to make sense of our world ... and at their best Booker Prize-listed books remind me of fiction’s power to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understand their struggles, and imagine new ways to tackle complex problems and effect change,” he said.
“I want to salute the work of the Booker Prize Foundation to encourage people to read more fiction.”
The shortlist for the £50,000 prize also featured Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar and Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King.
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, Real Life by Brandon Taylor and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body were also nominated.