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 🙂

Pretty places in Scotland

I love nature and the outdoors so I thought I’d share some pictures of Scotland which will hopefully be calming in these times. I feel lucky to live in such a beautiful country. There are many places I’d love to see in the future and many that aren’t pictured here as sadly I only have photos from some places but I’d recommend a visit to Scotland if you’ve never been 🙂

Glenfinnan viaduct and Culloden Battlefield

I was so excited to drive to Glenfinnan Viaduct as a stereotypical lover of Harry Potter. Harry Potter feels like childhood and Glenfinnan Viaduct is beautiful (I played the theme tune as I walked up the hill hahaha). The drive alone is worth it (although it took about 3.5 hours from my house) as Glencoe is extremely picturesque. The Culloden Battlefield is just on the other side of the Viaduct, which would be of interest to those who love history (or if you like Outlander, although I’m not sure how historically accurate Outlander is).

Glencoe

Sadly a lot of these pictures are taken on my old phone which got a bit scraped, so the camera is not the best. However, on the drive through Glencoe there are beautiful hills and mountains all around (I’m yet to climb one, I’d love to travel around Scotland in a campervan. I have to do the North coast 500 at some point, and I’d love to walk the West Highland way.

My local lochs and drives

This is the loch next to my house, it’s absolutely beautiful especially on (rare) sunny days. My favourite part of the loch is this forest trail and I’ve really enjoyed being able to go on bike rides (that kill my legs) especially at sunset when I tend not to see anybody and the deer start to come out (I’m still trying to get them to stop running away from me). I honestly feel like I’m in the hunger games or twilight. I also enjoy seeing the pretty swans swimming around, but I do not recommend getting close to them as they can only be defined as evil.

I love when Scotland snows (although I think this is an unpopular opinion) and it begins to feel all Wintery like Narnia.

These are again pictures near my house 😊 I live just outside Glasgow. I also enjoy seeing the occasional highland cow and the many hills.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Three lochs forest drive:

I recently went here whilst social distancing before the lockdown and it was a nice balance of driving and walks that are good for the unfit like me. I never get sick of forests; something feels magical about them and I love the sound of the birds singing (I sound like a Disney film). I took Norse Mythology here to read which added to the magical element.

Dumyat Hill:

Over the past year or so I’ve enjoyed hill walking, usually in the Stirling area. This picture is from Dumyat which is a good hill to start on, but my favourite I’ve climbed so far has been Ben A’an. I’m hoping to work up to higher hills in the future, one positive from these crazy times is making the most of nature and the outdoors again 😊 I sometimes like to focus on the environmental benefits around the world to bring some positivity to such a horrible situation.

Stirling Uni:

For some reason I didn’t really like Stirling Uni when I was there, but it has an amazing setting! Stirling is beautiful and has always reminded me of a little Edinburgh.

Glasgow

I’m biased because I live closer, but I’ve always been a Glasgow person more than Edinburgh. I would definitely recommend visiting Glasgow if you haven’t before, it has a great balance of nightlife, music, museums, parks and shops as well as theatres (and Glasgow uni/Hogwarts). I also think that the people are really friendly and helpful (the one’s who aren’t trying to stab you) and it has a positive atmosphere.

Botanic Gardens:

I would class the West end as the fancy part of Glasgow haha, it has pretty vintage shops, bars and the amazing (and free, woohoo) Botanic Gardens. Kelvingrove art gallery is also nearby 😊

Edinburgh

Whilst I love Glasgow, Edinburgh is still a fantastic place. I love the fact that you can visit a castle, shops and the theatre, go on a Harry Potter tour and walk up a dormant volcano in the same day. I now associate Edinburgh with 6.30am uni trains haha, but it’s always an exciting and patriotic place to see. These pictures were taken on Arthurs seat.

Culross

Again good for Outlander fans, parts were filmed here 😊 There is a little (usually freezing beach) and a number of brightly coloured houses to be seen as well as a beautiful old fashioned church. I don’t know how much there is to see round about as I’m never really explored, but it makes for a pretty day trip and is fairly close to Burnt Island.

Finnich Glen/Devil’s Pulpit

I have apparently become Outlander woman at this point, another filming location. I’ll have to go back here on a future sunny day because the pictures don’t do it justice, but this is a mystical and almost haunting place. I will say though, be careful on the way down because the staircase has eroded (thank you german man who stopped me plummeting to my death hahaha), but it’s fun to walk in the waterfall and look at all of the colours. I also enjoyed the eery witchy tales associated with the devil’s pulpit. P.s the live action Pokémon film also has a scene filmed here (did not like that film haha) and recently the tv programme The Nest.

Ayr

I’ve never managed to get a sunny day here, but there are lots of beaches to be seen!

Anstruther

Famous chippy, cute independent shops and beaches. Anstruther is very close to St Andrews, another picturesque place for a day trip. Last year after coming back from holiday I drove to St Andrews beach on a whim to pretend I was still in Greece (didn’t work haha) so I now have nice associations of St Andrews and Song of Achilles- I love this book.

Aviemore

We drove here on a Wintery day through beautiful snowy mountains to visit the reindeer (it doesn’t look real in this picture, but it was!) I haven’t spent a lot of time here, but I know that there are tourist attractions that make it a popular place to visit.

I hope you get the chance to visit anywhere that interests you, please let me know where you’re from 🙂