Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates
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Atmosphere and literary flourishes have been given the highest priority. Plot progression, the lowest. The plot here goes in every direction except straight ahead. I didn’t understand that the conflict between Protestants and Catholics raged in Scotland as Ireland. It’s the 1990s and fifteen year old Mungo lives in a Glasgow housing estate. He’s a soft soul in a hard world. His older brother is the leader of a gang and is trying to toughen Mungo up. His mother is a drunk and more absent than present. His sister tries to run the household while living her own life. Mungo meets James, a Catholic, and they fall in love. The only thing worse in this milieu than a cross sect romance is a queer romance. Young Mungo is a heartbreaking tale and tender love story of a sensitive teenager, brutalised by his origins and the society he lives in. Fifteen year old Mungo lives in poverty in a Glasgow housing scheme with his single mum and older sister Jodie. His father was killed on the streets in the ongoing violent and senseless warfare between protestant and catholic gangs. His mother was only a teenager herself when her first child, Mungo’s older brother Hamish was born, and unable to cope on her own with three youngsters took to the bottle to numb her pain. Never a good mother, she neglects Jodie and Mungo, leaving them alone for weeks at a time with no food in the house while she spends any money she has on alcohol and pursues her latest love interest. Despite all this Mungo loves her dearly, even though the more pragmatic Jodie tells him he should see her for what she is.
Book review: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart - The Scotsman Book review: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart - The Scotsman
Both books have a Saints name and legend at their heart. The legend of St Agnes (and “I am on fire. I do not burn”) forms the basis of an impromptu sermon in “Shuggie Bain” when Agnes first attends AA about how alcoholism consumes everything – something which of course is at the tragic heart of that novel. Here Mungo is explicitly named by his (Protestant) mother after Glasgow’s Patron Saint – and the Saint’s four miracles (featured on the Glasgow crest) “the bird that never flew, the tree that never grew, the bell that never rang, the fish that never swam” are also subtly and brilliantly reversed at key and tragic points in the novel (with pigeons that will never fly again, an attempted conflagration, a man named Bell as well as a phone call with consequences, an aborted fishing trip and series of near drownings). His short stories have been published by The New Yorker. His essays on Gender, Class and Anxiety are featured on Lit Hub.What I thought was interesting was to discuss where the book is both similar to and different from “Shuggie Bain”. The book plays out in two halves. The first set over a number of months is Mungo’s life in the period up to, during and after his relationship with James. The second a few months later is the aftermath, the book opening with Mo-Maw sending him on a rather hastily arranged fishing and camping trip to a remote Scottish loch with two men she knows from AA (Gallowgate and St (Sunday-Thursday) Christopher) – the two having proposed it as a way to man-up Mungo – the trip itself forming the second narrative strand.
Mungobooks - AbeBooks - Poole Mungobooks - AbeBooks - Poole
When I read Shuggie Bain I at least thought that there was an attempt at something in the storytelling... Douglas Stuart opens our eyes, minds, and hearts to fear, love, family brokenness, manliness, manhood, masculinity, (gut wrenching examination from every angle) > fragile, rugged, confidence, power, force, muscled, typical traits, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’……a deep look at the traditional and negative effects. The temporal setting is for me fascinating and important. “Shuggie Bain” was set over the period 1981-1992 with Shuggie from 5-15. No year is specified her but an Auld-Firm reference sets the book firmly in 1992-93 with Mungo approaching 16: so that in both calendar years and ages this book is a sequel to “Shuggie Bain”.Douglas Stuart’s writing is vigorous, profound, and descriptive, and therefore, I could picture a drunk Mo-Maw, Mungo at the loch with those two men, or what was about to happen so well. At times I wanted to scream at Mungo to watch out and stay away because something terrible was going to happen, but Mungo was such a sweet and likable boy (a loyal dog according to Douglas Stuart) and just too naive. So different from all the others in that masculine working-class environment in Glasgow, a city split between Catholics and Protestants. Different except for James. The gentle and vulnerable love between those boys was the highlight of this story. I loved those first moments when Mungo and James comforted each other, and they made me forget the darkness and the heartbreaking moments for a while. Instead it's just a series of bad things happening to a character that I don't care about occasionally interrupted by interludes of characters the reader is even less invested in and in one instance the actual child rapist. But in a fiercely violent masculine and heterosexual working class world, one ironically made only the fiercer and more violent by the otherwise emasculating impact of the Thatcher-era cuts on the heavy industry that built the culture: Mungo’s even bigger struggle is to somehow conform to the conventions and expectations of others (not the least Ha-Ha), when he himself is sensitive, artistic, nervous (with a facial tic which may be Tourette’s and a number of other compulsive behaviours) and increasingly aware of his attraction to his own sex.