Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for letting me read this ebook! Before reading, I just want to say that I can’t figure out if this is spoilery or not. It’s not fully spoilery, but I do think it would be best to first read Young Mungo with little knowledge (apart from the triggering warnings), before reading a post like this. I’m also writing this immediately after reading, so this isn’t so much about my own rating of the book, or a ‘review’ of sorts, but for now it’s more a collection of thoughts. I will say before continuing, I do think trigger warnings are very important going into this book. It will make you feel rage, distraught and helpless at times.

‘’He was Mo-Maw’s youngest son, but he was also her confidant, her lady’s maid, and her errand boy. He was her one flattering mirror, and her teenage diary, her electric blanket, her doormat. He was her best pal, the dog she hardly walked and her greatest romance. He was her cheer on a dreich morning, the only laughter in her audience’’.

‘’Her brother was her mother’s minor moon, her warmest sun, and at the exact same time, a tiny satellite that she had forgotten about. He would orbit her for an eternity, even as she, and then he, broke into bits’’.

The first thing I noticed in this story, and love, is that Douglas Stuart’s stories always have semi-autobiographical elements. I’ve never heard him speak in person, and have only listened to a couple of interviews, but I get the sense through the lens of Shuggie and Mungo that Stuart is an artistic, incredibly kind and perceptive dreamer. I love that these stories feel real because they have elements of Stuart’s character within, and because any Glaswegian can feel the stories come alive in a setting that feel so familiar. It is the innocent and dreamy qualities of both Shuggie and Mungo that make their stories so sad and poignant. Douglas’s books feel like one world, where the characters from each book could meet. The themes in Young Mungo are similar to Shuggie Bain, yet almost shifted in focus; Shuggie’s relationship with his mother is to the forefront, whilst Mungo is older and growing to focus on his sexuality. Class and the cycle of poverty continues to play a large role in this book, which I feel is highlighted particularly strongly in this quote:

‘’You know, that’s not for boys like you;’…’’You’re not cut from university cloth’’.

Cycles of poverty and class are contained by the unjust society we live in, a society where people who stigmatise and believe in their own prejudice aim to segregate those who live in poverty from a young age, pushing them into boxes. The class division in Glasgow and Scotland remain strong today, and I realise that this is something incredibly difficult to break. I am privileged in that I have never had to worry about money to this extent, and that I have grown up with a loving, nurturing family. I know that there is not much I can do as one person, but as a teacher, I aim to always work in areas of deprivation like the one I grew up and live in, and I hope to use my voice to be the nurturing figure that some children are reaching out for. It is very important not to ignore privilege, and not to imagine that hope alone can overcome these barriers, but it is equally important to teach every children that dreams and ambitions are theirs to have.

A strong theme within Young Mungo is future, and choice within constrained options; or rather, what feels less like choice but may be predetermined fate due to the social structures of this family. Choices surrounding a sense of family loyalty, the bounds that can hold us when someone we love is suffering, the impact of making these choices- or rather, lack of choice- at such a young age, and how these can limit your own sense of identity. Choices become tied up with burden. I was therefore interested in the part minor characters had to play in this story. For example, Poor-Wee-Chickie’s reflections on his past choices and the life he leads now will resonate for lots of people, but I feel particularly people living in areas like Glasgow, where prejudice still exists. I believe his reflections will also resonate with many LGBT people. My choices have been impacted by my sexuality- consciously or otherwise, growing up hearing the negative connotations of being gay. This has resulted in a hesitancy in myself and a fear of taking chances. I enjoyed the parallels between Poor-Wee-Chickie and Mungo, and his part in the story of pushing Mungo to contemplate his own future.

‘‘Poor-Wee-Chickie has been surrounded by love. Where had it all turned for him?… ‘’What should I do, Mister Calhoun?’’… ‘That’s easy son. Put yourself first for once’’.

I also love Mungo and Jodie’s relationship with Mrs Campbell. She is facing deprivation amongst other issues and strives to support these children despite barely being in a better off situation herself. I believe this strongly shows the character of Glaswegian communities. This is why I feel that is so important that Douglas is a Glasweigan writer; this first hand knowledge, and love of Glasgow allows this story to be so nuanced. Douglas knows what it’s like to live here, and really explores the different levels of deprivation within this community. This story is not a 2-dimensional account with the theme ‘Glasgow is poor’. Encounters from Mrs Campbell and James highlight that the characters in this story experience differing degrees of deprivation, but that their other experiences can still equate to an equal impact on mental health and opportunity.  And this story highlights that people in these communities will always help each other despite the burden of their own pain. In this way, I feel that Young Mungo discusses two of the most famous or infamous paradoxical impressions of Glasgow: that it is a city of violence and poverty, and that people make Glasgow.

Please let me know what you thought of this book! I’d be really intrigued to hear others opinions 🙂

2 thoughts on “Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

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