Douglas Stuart and his Booker Prize writes “haphazardly”

“Shuggie Bain”, translated from English (Scotland) by Charles Bonnot, by Douglas Stuart, Globe, 496 p., €23.90, digital €16.

It sounds a bit like a warning. Or a latent complex, despite the prizes and honors. “You know, I’m… an outsider. I don’t come from a literary background at all. I grew up in a house without books. » Later in the conversation, Douglas Stuart will add: “Writer, me? I would never have dared to use this term. I wrote like that, haphazardly. A paragraph then a chapter, and so on until the end. Until I said to myself one day: “Oh my God, I have a book!” » He’s laughing. At the time, “it was 900 pages” ! A debut novel that would later be cut in half, published by Grove Press in New York under the title Shuggie Bathand crowned in 2020 by the prestigious Booker Prize.

As if he never ceased to wonder, Douglas Stuart smiled. He speaks to us by videoconference from East Village, in Manhattan, where he lives and works. His accent betrays his origins. “I chose New York to pursue my career [de designer de mode]. The distance has brought me clarity of mind. But I was born in Glasgow, in 1976.”

In the vise of poverty and alcohol

The Scotland he describes is that of the 1980s, that of their common childhood, to Shuggie, his narrator, and to him. Devastated post-industrial landscapes, unemployment at 26%, life expectancy eleven years below average, everything was disintegrating everywhere. It was the beginning of the Thatcher years. Today, it is rehabilitated, but, at the time, Scotland was paying a high price. That said, I didn’t want to write a political book. Shuggie Bath is a romance novel. »

Total, desperate, desperate love of an 8-year-old son for his mother. He is a queer boy, as he says, different and mocked by his comrades. She, a wreck, caught in the vice of poverty and alcohol. Gradually, emptiness settled around her. Husband, children, lovers, all fled. “People don’t really want to know her anymore,” explains Shuggie in the book. “When she is very drunk, she gets very angry. I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself (…). Sometimes before school I hide all the pills in the bathroom. »

With her, he will be the last, but he will be there until the end. These two form an unbreakable couple. She drinks for “repel ugliness and loneliness”, he loves her for similar reasons: both endure the same ordeal. It is besides an astonishing photo of modern crucifixion that the editor chose for the cover of the French version. In a dilapidated decor, Shuggie perched on a T-post takes on, in all its candor, a Christlike appearance. The Father has abandoned them, the Mother is a mater dolorosathe Son suffers on the cross, all without the slightest note of misery.

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Douglas Stuart and his Booker Prize writes “haphazardly”