Douglas Stuart’s new novel is lively, insightful and perfectly balanced

Jodie sighed. “Look around you. We are not so lucky.

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Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart.

Decidedly less soothing is Mungo’s brother, Hamish, known as Ha-Ha, who leads a Protestant gang bent on tormenting local Catholics and has a gruesome initiation in mind for his brother. If Mungo wasn’t ill-suited enough for the villainy of Ha-Ha and his ilk, his difference, not to mention the sense of doom that surrounds him, coalesces when he discovers James, a quiet Catholic boy with an obsession for the Dove. races. What begins as a furtive friendship quickly turns into forbidden love.

Young Mungo can cover ground familiar to readers of Shuggie bath, but it is by no means a clone of Stuart’s first book. On the one hand, it is the work of an exquisitely talented writer whose inspiration has been linked to a more developed sense of romantic craftsmanship.

The narrative here has a more strategic duck and weave. Its structure is coiled and primed to deliver the inevitable punch, and while some of the descriptive passages resort to exaggeration (especially early on, where the scattered similes ricochet with alarming speed), Stuart finds his purpose and kills his darlings. in a short time. Admittedly, it’s worth enduring passages that can feel a little rich when Stuart is so inclined to imagine the realities of the poor.

One of the exceptional qualities Young Mungo shares with its predecessor a penetrating focus on the textures and psychology of squalor. Few writers can write about them as lavishly as Stuart, and you might be tempted to think of him as an Alan Hollinghurst on the wrong side of the track.

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There’s an incandescent liveliness to its portrayal of characters shaped and shadowed by the grime of their experience, and as battered and gruesome as they are, you never get a sense of the grotesque or the caricature. Rather the opposite. Even the villains in this book are never less than fully human – sometimes more monstrous for their moments of ordinariness or the way they might bump into type.

Stuart can write sentences to die for – his prose is lively, insightful, perfectly balanced – and at his best (that is, most of the time) he uses his formidable descriptive powers not to wallow in a medium desperate, violent and impoverished, but to deepen our understanding and imagination.

There may be little solace for a cooped-up young man struggling to survive in this Glasgow hood, but Mungo seizes what he secretly can, and we get the bleak solace of reading this tearful filtered through the prism by Stuart. beautiful, incisive and emotionally powerful prose.

Irene B. Bowles