The Bossy Bookworm
Review of Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
Young Mungo offers a striking story of disappointment, abuse, Protestant-Catholic conflict, and a young, gay love forged in the intensely unforgiving climate of working-class Glasgow.
In his second novel, Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart offers the story of a working-class Glasgow family and particularly the life of sensitive, kind, dreamy Mungo, who was named for a saint.
Raised by a codependent, emotionally stunted alcoholic mother who frequently abandons the kids for days or weeks while on benders or with a new boyfriend, Mungo also lives with a tough, loving older sister who's desperate to escape to university but doesn't dare leave Mungo. His local gang leader brother consistently makes trouble, forces violence, and threatens those Mungo cares about if Mungo avoids participating in brutality such as the widespread beatings of Catholics in the area.
The story of Young Mungo largely alternates between an intensely disturbing, extended situation involving abuse, neglect, and danger and the blossoming of a forbidden young love, the vulnerability of allowing one's self to be seen for the first time, overcoming lifelong Protestant-Catholic conflicts, and forging a meaningful connection.
The timing of the story isn't explicitly stated, but it feels like a 1980s setting.
Young Mungo explores ideas of masculinity and loyalty, a gay relationship forged in an intensely unforgiving social climate, brutality, revenge, and it offers surprises as well. Stuart uses an omniscient point of view that allows the reader to understand characters’ disparate contexts and pressures and motivations. The story is beautiful and tragic and never feels emotionally manipulative.
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Douglas Stuart is also the author of Shuggie Bain.