Published By: Grove
Released On: 05/04/2022
Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars – Mungo is 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 paths, 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.
Thanks to Grove for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.
I’ll admit, I didn’t actually finish reading Douglas Stuart’s past book “Shuggie Bain” (I was probably the only one who didn’t), as I found it a bit hard to get into, but it still on my shelf ready for me to start again. But even so, I really was keen to read Young Mungo.
Douglas doesn’t shy away from depicting the negatives of a young person’s life in troubled circumstances – it’s all there in it’s brutal glory. The only Scotland I know is the one I’ve visited in the past 20 or so. The warm, bright, fun, inviting Scotland, so to see the country written about in a different mindset is a real eye-opener. You can definitely feel Douglas’ personal connection with his characters and their troubles in every word.
It is atmospheric, light in places and deeply dark in others, with a clever use of two time periods to show the physical and emotional confliction in Mungo. There’s a sense of Romeo and Juliet about this book, a forbidden love across two people, two cultures, two beliefs – a theme that still resonates to, especially when regrading culture or religion.
If I’m honest, I am not a huge fan of when an author writes in a particular accent, “ah cannae ‘member…comin’ oot the city”; things like that. That’s not a negative of this book in particular, it’s just a writing style that I don’t get on with, I much prefer to come to the accents and dialects naturally in my own mind when I read, but I’m aware that writing like this can help some readers understand the characters more.
There have been some criticisms that I’ve read that say this book is too similar to Shuggie Bain in its themes, characters, and writing style – having not read all of Shuggie Bain, I cannot comment either way – but it would be interesting to see if Douglas continues in this genre, or surprises us all with a new direction. Either way, it breathes success.
I don’t think this is a book for everyone – it is rough reading mentally and emotionally in a lot of places, but Douglas excels at creating a much-talked about, emotional, and powerful story.