Young Mungo is a 2022 novel by Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart. It is Stuart’s second novel, following his Booker Prize-winning debut Shuggie Bain (2020).
15-year-old Mungo Hamilton is growing up in a Glasgow council estate. He is quite a gentle boy, very different from his older brother Hamish. There is a constant threat of violence in his life from warring gangs of Protestants and Catholics, plus a threat from alcoholic predators. For most of the story, Mungo is living at home and being cared for by his sister Jodie, with the constant threat of being taken away by social services in the absence of their mother, Maureen. He meets James, a Catholic boy who lives across the street from him. James, who has built a dovecote to raise pigeons, is the most beautiful person to Mungo. The two become friends and soon develop a romance.
The book confronts the homophobia, toxic masculinity and religious conflicts of society in the early 90s. Much like Shuggie Bain, it is a hard-hitting world for a young lad becoming a man. Stuart’s chapters alternate between a fishing trip that Mungo takes with two friends of his mother and a more expansive history of Mungo’s life leading up to the final chapter, where both narratives collide. The reader is taken by a brutal truth in a story you know is going to turn nasty. You will feel deeply for the protagonist as sexual and physical abuse are the main themes in this book. Yet, there is a beautiful story of love. Jodie and James are the islands of hope you find as a reader.
Yes, I did cry when I was reading this novel.
I did find the story to be gut-wrenching. The scenes at the loch were particularly difficult to stomach, and the weather aids the foreboding atmosphere, whose inevitability only serves to heighten its tragedy. Although I was glad to reach the end, this is defiantly a book that would take a second read; so much life is contained in the pages. Worth every moment.
An interesting fact to add [as I happen to be a student of photography] The cover depicts the well-known photograph “The Cock (Kiss)” by German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.