The Stories that steal hearts

Booker Prize 2020 has been awarded to “a daring, frightening and life-changing novel”. For many, 2020 may be a wasted year. Indeed, the pandemic ushered sickness, deaths, lockdown, and a virtual shut down of the world. But, on a closer look, the year offers some remarkable instances of undeterred courage and endeavor of humans.

The announcement of Booker Prize 2020 is one such instance. Among the most esteemed literary prizes of the world, formerly Booker McConnell Prize, Booker Prize (also Man Booker Prize) has gone to Shuggie Bain, the first novel by American-Scottish author Douglas Stuart.

 Booker Prize is a British annual literary award that is conferred on a full-scale novel in English. It was launched by Booker McConnell, an MNC in 1968 and was limited solely to English language writers from UK and Commonwealth countries until 2014 when it opened to all English language writers of the world.

Shuggie Bain is poignant, if autobiographical, account of a child growing up in Glasgow of 1980s. The protagonist is an underdog combating poverty (work at a Supermarket, receives “patchy schooling”) and sexual identity amid his responsibilities to his alcoholic mother.

Reviewers point to a tint of D.H. Lawrence in Douglas’s work, probably, for some semblances in storyline and characterization. Bain’s father, an erstwhile miner, disappoints his mother’s hope much in the manner of Paul Morel’s father in Sons and Lovers. One may compare the protagonists’ in the two novels for their financial and emotional battles and concern for mother. Paul like Bain, becomes the caregiver for his sick mother and does everything to please her, to the extent that he is unable to forge any other relationship.  But Shuggie Bain, additionally,portrays effect of a mother’s addiction on the child’s growth, homosexuality,and is set in a different time; a more cosmopolitan and recent world.

A comparison of the Douglas Stuart’s work with, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, another noted Booker Prize winning book, may seem quite unlikely.  But both the novels bank upon “filial relationship.” Rushdie, of course, using it symbolically for the link between motherland/nation and citizens. Other commonalities could be “nuanced” depiction of characters, Glasgow neighbourhood and “values” as Ms. Margaret Busby, chair of the judges, Booker Prize 2020, observes:

“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. The heart wrenching story tells of the unconditional love between Agnes Bain-set on a descent into alcoholism by the tough circumstances life has dealt her—and her youngest son.”

So far as language and style, with its lyrical, lucid, and graphic prose, the novel reinstates the value of reader-friendly writing.

What this win may mean to the aspiring writers?

Firstly, with his “mother (is) in every page” the writer admits using individual experiences in writing, testifying the timelessness of the personal in writing. Secondly, as celebration of the work of a queer, American-Scottish, debutant writer for depicting empathy, inclusivity, diversity, the win highlights that these values matter.Lastly, Shuggie Bain won Booker Prize after rejection by 30 publishers, establishing, that a writer is one who never loses hope.

Guest Blog

Dr Jindagi Kumari

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