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Douglas Stuart wins Booker Prize for 'Shuggie Bain'
The writer Douglas Stuart at the Beekman Hotel in New York, Oct. 12, 2020. Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize for his debut novel “Shuggie Bain,” which has drawn comparisons to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Frank McCourt. Daniel Dorsa/The New York Times.

by Alexandra Alter

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- When Douglas Stuart began writing a fictional account of his childhood, growing up in Glasgow with an alcoholic mother, he wasn’t sure it would ever be published.

“I wouldn’t allow myself to believe I was writing a book, because it was too intimidating,” he said during an interview last month.

Early responses from editors were equally discouraging: More than 30 publishers rejected the book. He finally sold it to Grove Atlantic, and the novel, “Shuggie Bain,” drew rapturous reviews.

Now, his debut has won the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, cementing Stuart’s reputation as a blazing new literary talent.

The award, which was announced Thursday, will likely draw a large new audience to the novel, which came out earlier this year.

In a video news conference, Margaret Busby, this year’s chair of judges, said the vote was unanimous and quick, and she noted that she believed the book is destined to become a classic.

“It’s challenging, it’s intimate, it’s gripping, it’s daring,” she said of the novel. “To some extent, I think anybody who reads it will never feel the same.”

For Stuart, working on “Shuggie Bain” gave him a way to process the trauma of his childhood and to pay tribute to his mother, who died when he was 16.

“Shuggie Bain” unfolds in 1980s Glasgow and centers on a boy nicknamed Shuggie, who is struggling with being gay and his mother’s addiction. Shuggie is precocious and sensitive, making him a target for school bullies. He devotes himself to caring for his mother, Agnes, sometimes skipping school to make sure she doesn’t harm herself and checking on her when she passes out drunk.

The novel, which has drawn comparisons to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Frank McCourt, has been a favorite contender for this year’s top literary prizes. In addition to being a Booker finalist, Stuart was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award for fiction, which Wednesday went to Charles Yu for “Interior Chinatown.”

During a news conference, Booker representatives said “Shuggie Bain” had prevailed because of the strength of the narrative and the prose.

“It appears to be a very classical novel on a first reading,” said Gaby Wood, the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation. “But actually when you reread it, you find it’s quite daring.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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