Booker Prize 2020: Douglas Stuart wins coveted award for Shuggie Bain, debut novel set in 1980s Glasgow
Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain was chosen from a shortlist of six books, by a jury comprising Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Emily Wilson, and Lemn Sissay, with Margaret Busby as chair.
The Booker Prize Foundation, on 19 November, announced that the Booker Prize 2020 has been awarded to Douglas Stuart for his debut novel Shuggie Bain.
Stuart noted that his is only the second Scottish book to win the Prize so far.
The Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding work of fiction written in English and published in the UK or Ireland, comes with a purse of £50,000.
Shuggie Bain was chosen from a shortlist of six books, by a jury comprising Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Emily Wilson, and Lemn Sissay, with Margaret Busby as chair. It tells the story of Hugh "Shuggie" Bain, a young boy growing up in run-down public housing in 1980s Glasgow, Scotland; Shuggie and his siblings have been abandoned by their father and are raised by their mother Agnes, an alcoholic.
In a review of Shuggie Bain for the Guardian, Alex Preston wrote, "This is a deeply political novel, one about the impact of Thatcherism on Glaswegian society, which became a place of 'men rotting into the settee for want of decent work'. It is brilliant on the shame of poverty and the small, necessary dignities that keep people going. It is heartbreakingly good on childhood and Shuggie’s growing sense of his otherness, of not being the same as the other boys on the estate." Preston concluded that Stuart's first novel was a work of "rare and lasting beauty".
Glasgow-born Stuart wrote Shuggie Bain over a 10-year period. Stuart, 44, dedicated the book to his mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.
The socially-distanced ceremony, broadcast live from the Roundhouse in London, included addresses by the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker Bowles, and former US President Barack Obama. "As long as we can read we can travel, we can escape, we can explore, we can laugh, we can cry and we can grapple with life’s mysteries," the Duchess said. Former Booker winners Kazuo Ishiguro and Bernardine Evaristo were also part of the proceedings.
The shortlisted works this year included Diane Cook's The New Wilderness, Tsitsi Dangarembga's This Mournable Body, Avni Doshi's Burnt Sugar, Maaza Mengiste's The Shadow King, Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain, and Brandon Taylor's Real Life.
While announcing the shortlist, Busby had said: "The novels on this year's shortlist range in setting from an unusual child growing up in working-class Glasgow in the 1980s, to a woman coping with a post-colonial nightmare in Zimbabwe. Along the way we meet a man struggling with racism on a university campus, join a trek in the wilderness after an environmental disaster, eavesdrop on a woman coping with her ageing mother as they travel across India and in an exploration of female power discover how ordinary people rose up in 1930s Ethiopia to defend their country against invading Italians. It’s a wondrous and enriching variety of stories, and hugely exciting as well."
Many of the shortlisted books were their respective authors' debuts, a fact that Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, had previously commented on. "No one wins the Booker Prize because of who they are. A book wins because of what it does. What has transpired is a testament to the judges’ faith in — among other things — first fictions: they have found these writers to have much to say, and found them to have said it in a way that became even richer on a second reading," Wood had said.
The 2019 Prize was jointly awarded to Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other.