Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo is a novel about first love between two Glaswegian boys, a Protestant and a Catholic, as they try and find their place within the world they live. Mungo lives with his sister and, sometimes, his mother, an alcoholic who often disappears. His older brother is his model for masculinity, but Mungo has always been different. When he meets James, a boy who lives nearby and looks after pigeons, it seems he’s found someone who understands him, even if James is a Catholic, and as they fall in love, the threat of discovery looms. And then, later on, Mungo is sent on a fishing trip with two strange men by his mother.

I’ve not yet read Shuggie Bain, but I was drawn to the description of Young Mungo. It is told through two timelines, almost a ‘before’ and ‘after’ though not quite, opening with Mungo leaving for the trip with the two men off into the countryside, and then the next chapter moving to the ‘start’ of the story. The structure worked well, with an awful inevitability to the ‘before’ part of the narrative and a lingering dread to the ‘after’. Mungo’s world is vivid, particularly his family, and it is heartbreaking to see the choices he ends up with, as well as his ongoing hope for his alcoholic mother, even as his sister has given up on her.

This is an immersive book exploring love, violence, and masculinity in working class Glasgow, as well as the failings of family. It is brutal at times, both in terms of violence and grim reality, and it isn’t a cheery read, but there’s still a lot of tenderness in it, as you might expect from a book about first love.