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Reviews of Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo

by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart X
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 400 pages

    Mar 2023, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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About this Book

Book Summary

A story of queer love and working-class families, Young Mungo is the brilliant second novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain.

Douglas Stuart's first novel Shuggie Bain, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, is one of the most successful literary debuts of the century so far. Published or forthcoming in forty territories, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide. Now Stuart returns with Young Mungo, his extraordinary second novel. Both a page-turner and literary tour de force, it is a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a deeply moving and highly suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men.

Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars—Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic—and they should be sworn enemies if they're to be seen as men at all. Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold. And when several months later Mungo's mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try 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 and giving full voice to people rarely acknowledged in the literary world, Young Mungo is a gripping and revealing story about the bounds of masculinity, the divisions of sectarianism, the violence faced by many queer people, and the dangers of loving someone too much.

Young Mungo

As they neared the corner, Mungo halted and shrugged the man's hand from his shoulder. It was such an assertive gesture that it took everyone by surprise. Turning back, Mungo squinted up at the tenement flat, and his eyes began to twitch with one of their nervous spasms. As his mother watched him through the ear-of-wheat pattern of the net curtains, she tried to convince herself that his twitch was a happy wink, a lovely Morse code that telegraphed everything would be okay. F. I. N. E. Her youngest son was like that. He smiled when he didn't want to. He would do anything just to make other people feel better.

Mo-Maw swept the curtain aside and leant on the window frame like a woman looking for company. She raised her tea mug in one hand and tapped the glass with her pearlescent pink nails. It was a colour she had chosen to make her fingers appear fresher, because if her hands looked younger, then so might her face, so might her entire self. As she looked down upon...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The novel takes place on two distinct time lines, and the painful connection between the two eventually becomes clear. How did you experience the repeated shifts between these two settings—Mungo, Gallowgate, and St Christopher at the loch, and Mungo, James, and the Hamilton family in Glasgow? How did you interpret the overlapping of the novel's two basic genres: a thriller tinged with violent horror and a queer romance?
  2. The author communicates a great deal about the characters through their physical idiosyncrasies: Jodie with her "Haaah-ha" and Mungo with his facial tics and compulsive picking, as well as the body language of other characters toward him. Yet Mungo so often misses the meaning in other people's words. To what ...
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BookBrowse Review


Many of the themes present in Young Mungo will be familiar to readers of Stuart's first novel, the Booker-winning Shuggie Bain, which is set around the same place and time. Yet Young Mungo is more varied and expansive. Stuart delves deeper into the culture of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics through the character of Mungo's brother Hamish. A cornerstone of the novel is Mungo's relationship with James, a young pigeon enthusiast whose doocot (the Glaswegian pronunciation of "dovecote," a structure for housing pigeons) becomes a sanctuary against the brutality of the estates. Stuart's delicate descriptions of the young boys' budding romance are filled with a rare, naive tenderness. Above all else, Young Mungo is a brilliant study of the demands of a particular kind of masculinity, one that equates feeling with weakness and callousness with strength...continued

Full Review (830 words)

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(Reviewed by Grace Graham-Taylor).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Stuart oozes story. Mungo is alive. There is feeling under every word ... This novel cuts you and then bandages you back up.

New York Times Book Review
Stuart writes beautifully, with marvelous attunement to the poetry in the unlovely and the mundane ... The novel conveys an enveloping sense of place, in part through the wit and musicality of its dialogue.

Washington Post
Young Mungo seals it: Douglas Stuart is a genius ...Stuart quickly proves himself an extraordinarily effective thriller writer. He's capable of pulling the strings of suspense excruciatingly tight while still sensitively exploring the confused mind of this gentle adolescent trying to make sense of his sexuality.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
The risk of sentimentality is always there, as it was in Shuggie Bain. But Young Mungo is a braver book, and more truthful, for his having taken that risk.

The Guardian (UK)
Young Mungo is a finer novel than its predecessor, offering many of the same pleasures, but with a more sure-footed approach to narrative and a finer grasp of prose. There are sentences here that gleam and shimmer, demanding to be read and reread for their beauty and their truth ... If the first novel announced Stuart as a novelist of great promise, this confirms him as a prodigious talent.

The Times (UK)
Richly abundant. It spills over with colourful characters and even more colourful insults. And like a Dickens novel it has a moral vision that's expansive and serious while being savagely funny.

Booklist (starred review)
A searing, gorgeously written portrait of a young gay boy trying to be true to himself in a place and time that demands conformity to social and gender rules...Stuart's tale could be set anywhere that poverty, socioeconomic inequality, or class struggles exist, which is nearly everywhere. But it is also about the narrowness and failure of vision in a place where individuals cannot imagine a better life, where people have never been outside their own neighborhood...Stuart's prize-winning, best-selling debut, Shuggie Bain, ensures great enthusiasm for his second novel of young, dangerous love.

Boston Globe
An excoriating study of how violence begets violence, a devastating story of how the abused and victimized become abusers or aggressors ... [Stuart's] writing is so magnificent and his young hero so endearingly, vibrantly alive that we soldier on through Mungo's saga of endurance, weepingly inspired like watchers of a war zone, aching to assuage the survivor's ache, yearning to rescue him from the predations of his enemies, his vindictive older brother, and finally his own darker impulses.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The Sighthill tenement where Shuggie Bain, Stuart's Booker Prize–winning debut, unfurled is glimpsed in his follow-up, set in the 1990s in an adjacent neighborhood. You wouldn't think you'd be eager to return to these harsh, impoverished environs, but again this author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner...Romantic, terrifying, brutal, tender, and, in the end, sneakily hopeful. What a writer.

Library Journal (starred review)
After the splendid Shuggie Bain, Stuart continues his examination of 1980s Glaswegian working-class life and a son's attachment to an alcohol-ravaged mother, with results as good yet distinctly different...In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain's, if still spiked with startling similes, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow's Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo's tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The astonishing sophomore effort from Booker Prize winner details a teen's hard life in north Glasgow in the post-Thatcher years...Stuart's writing is stellar...This is unbearably sad, more so because the reader comes to cherish the characters their creator has brought to life. It's a sucker punch to the heart.

Author Blurb Bernardine Evaristo, Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other
Few novels are as gutsy and gut-wrenching as Young Mungo in its depiction of a teenage boy who finds love amid family dysfunction, community conflict and the truly terrible predations of adults. Vividly realised and emotionally intense, this scorching novel is an urgent addition to the new canon of unsung stories.

Author Blurb Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Mercies
Some novels can be admired, others enjoyed. But it is a rare thing to find a story so engrossing, bittersweet and beautiful that you do not so much read it, as experience it. It is this quality Young Mungo possesses—an intense, lovely, brutal thing. Stuart is a masterful storyteller.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Literary Triumph: A Brilliant, Brutal, and Tragic Gay Love Story That Broke My Heart Over and Over
This book is brilliant...and brutal. It's a magnificent gay love story wrapped around horrific, shuddering violence. It is deeply profound with a storyline that is heartbreaking, tragic, and difficult to read. And I couldn't put it down. ...   Read More

A heart breaker

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Beyond the Book

Religious Sectarianism in Glasgow: Then and Now

Orange parade in Larkhall, Scotland One theme of Douglas Stuart's Young Mungo is the quotidian experience of violence. In part, this violence comes from warring sectarian gangs, whose vicious rivalry wreaks havoc in Glasgow's East End. Enmity between Protestants and Catholics has a long history in Glasgow, as well as Scotland more generally. It can be traced back to the 17th century and, while no longer as prevalent as it was in Young Mungo's late 20th-century setting, remains today.

The origins of Protestant and Catholic antagonism in Scotland stem from a conflict between the Protestant King William of Orange and the Catholic King James VII of Scots (also known as King James II of England). In 1688, King William, then ruler of the Netherlands and the husband of James'...

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