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 🙂

My favourite new reads of 2021

A very late Happy New Year! I am remotivated to post this then get on with some more up to date regular 2022 posts! I also love posting on Instagram @carlybooks_ and looking at bookish accounts, so please follow me there if interested! 😊 I never count rereads in this list because I reread old favourites, so here are my 5 favourite new reads of 2021 (p.s. there are fuller descriptions of each book in 2021 blog posts so these are just wee snippets):

Honourable mentions:

Klara and the Sun, Kitchen, After Dark, Luster, Exciting times. I’ve written about these books in more detail in 2021 blog posts, but they all have the sort of style of writing I love- character driven, almost plotless, somehow dreamy, reflecting on social issues and their impact on people in today’s society. I fell in love with Japanese literature this year, it’s very beautiful and almost magical!

Number five- Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes:

‘’Now, in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I didn’t read as much non-fiction as I usually do this year, but this was a great one! I didn’t love Natalie Hayes fiction books as much when I read them, but the way this book was written weaved in all the characters with modern social issues so well, I’d recommend! I’d also recommend listening to the songs she mentions throughout, listening to Beyoncé lemonade during the Medea chapter was quite an experience.

Number four- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

‘’Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World, Where are You synopsis)

I listened to this as an audiobook which I think is always the way to go with Irish narrators because I love the accent and it adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I think this might be my favourite of her books. I love the storytelling, elements of mental health and the social commentary on social media/technology and climate change. I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to keep this in mind whilst reading, but I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I’d love to read more books that look at the impact of social media on our self-esteem and mental health.

Number three- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

This book was so powerful, and the relationships were beautiful and very sad. I felt even more connected to the story because of the LGBT elements and the setting- some of my own family members have experienced some of these issues and I think they’re still sadly very relevant around Glasgow. I think this book manages to be filled with hopeful moments despite the poignant sad ones. I’m currently reading Young Mungo as I got a review eBook on net galley, woo (did not know that was a thing until last month!) and I think I like it even more, although I love wee Shuggie as a character so much. I’d 100% recommend reading some Scottish fiction if you’re from elsewhere around the world, I’d love to know if it still has the same impact or gives you a new perspective on Scotland. I’d also be curious to know where you are from and what books you’d recommend from your home country! 😊

Number two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was one of the first books I’ve read translated from Japanese and I loved it! I always love books which are basically just about characters and relationships where nothing really happens, and this is exactly that bit with a kind of whimsical feeling. There was something so interesting and unusual about this book and it’s made me want to go to Tokyo one day even more than I already did. I”d really recommend this, although I’d first check the trigger warnings as there are themes such as suicide. I’d also recommend this as a first choice for Murakami’s books because it’s a lot more realistic and less insane than his others. I read 4 of his this year and I am finding some uncomfortable themes with the ways he writes women. Overall though, Norwegian Wood has become one of my favourite ever books!

Number one: Duck Feet by Ely Percy

’Twelve-year-old Kirsty Campbell used to like school – that is until she started first year at Renfrew High. Set in the mid-noughties and narrated in a Renfrewshire dialect, Duck Feet is an episodic novel comprised of 65 linked short stories, all following the lives of working-class school-girl Kirsty and her pals as they traverse from first to sixth year of high school.’’ (Duck feet synopsis)

Another Scottish book, they did well last year! I also went to a Waterstones reading and signing from Ely Percy and it was amazing to hear their perspective on their perspective on writing the story, it brought it to life even more. I’d like to go to more book events in 2022! I’m also happy that I joined an Instagram book club last year, hosted by @scottieandthebooks. It gave me the chance to read with others, making it a less solitary experience and creating a culture of celebration of Scottish literature (although I’m too shy to really speak in it haha!) Anyway, I loved book so much, I went to school nearby Renfrew a few years after this is set and it’s so close in time and place that I felt like I was reading about my own school (good and bad times haha!). My favourite chapter VL just flashed me back to forgotten (or repressed) times. I also loved the deeper moments and themes throughout and related to so many of the characters. I’d love to read more about the queer characters in Duck Feet if Ely writes this book. I’d 100% recommend this book to everyone!

Thank you everyone who read or commented last year, I honestly love reading comments and talking about books as reading can feel lonely otherwise! Please let me know of your favourites reads of last year, I’d genuinely love to know! 😊 I know we’re still in difficult times, but I hope you have an amazing year, and please reach out to me if you’d ever like to talk- about books, mental health or anything else!