Books & Literature

Book Review: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart

GENERAL FICTION: From Booker-prizewinner Douglas Stuart an extraordinary, page-turning second novel, a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a highly suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men: Mungo and James.


Young Mungo is the tale of Mungo Hamilton, a Protestant lad, sexually and emotionally emerging as a same-sex-attracted teen in a household and city that seethes with loathing, hatred, and violence.

Mungo has been raised by his sister, Jodie, due to his mother’s absences — as she chases her own desperate happiness with men who cannot and will not ever truly love her, and hides in the depths of alcoholism to quell her despair — whilst being bullied and harassed by his gang leader brother, Hamish.

Amid his Glasgow-tenanted misery and isolation, Mungo meets James, a Protestant boy who has recently lost his mother too, but to illness rather than chasing an unfulfillable dream. From the moment they meet, Mungo is drawn to James and a timid, but affectionate, romance begins to blossom in James’s doocot.

Alongside this tale is a parallel story of Mungo’s time away in the Scottish Highlands, with two strangers. Sent away by this mother after the discovery of his sexual leanings, this portion of the tale reveals an even darker side of sexuality.

Stewart’s Young Mungo is his second Glasgow-based novel, following his 2020 Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain. Above all, this is a coming-of-age tale that reflects his own journey, though not autobiographically, to finding peace, love, and happiness in his homosexuality.

The other beautiful aspect of Young Mungo, alongside the boyish romance, is the inclusion of the lilting Scots’ brogue, giving it a truth that sings off the page, like an Irvine Welsh novel, with fewer drugs and almost as much violence.

It is an oddity that the early chapters identify the disjointed timeline’s locations, but this transition from the before to the after is not carried on throughout. Once the locational details are set in the reader’s mind, the flow is less jarring over time.

Young Mungo will sit amongst the great modern Glasgow-set tales — whether fiction (like its predecessor) or non-fiction (like Jimmy Barnes’ Working Class Boy) — and reflects that, over the later half of the 20th century, it was a city that remained dark, closed-minded, and volatile to those seen as different or vulnerable.

Reviewed by Glen Christie

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: April 2022
RRP: $32.99

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