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Who the heck is…? Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart

November 23, 2020

Most Americans don’t know much about the Booker Award. That’s okay because most Americans don’t know much about American literary awards either.

When I heard that Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart won the 2020 Booker Award, I didn’t ask “What is the Booker Award?”

I asked, “Who is Shuggie Bain? Or what is a Shuggie Bain?”

That’s the problem with novels titled after their main characters. If readers aren’t interested in the name, they might not be curious enough to read the book. I didn’t read Emma by Jane Austen because I didn’t care who Emma was. The same with Jane Eyre by some woman who was not Jane Austen. I cared about Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley because I already knew who they were.

But Shuggie Bain? Yeah, I didn’t care.

But since I’m a book blogger (kind of), I try to keep up with stuff pertaining to literature, so I began reading a sample of Shuggie Bain: Here, in the first couple pages, the narrator describes his relationship with three co-workers when he was around 16 years old early in the first chapter:


In truth, the girls were three middle-aged Glasgow women. Ena, the ringleader, was a rake-thin, poker-faced woman with greasy hair. She had no eyebrows to speak of, but she did have a faint mustache, which seemed unfair to Shuggie. Ena was rough even for this end of Glasgow, but she was also kind and generous in the way hard-done-to people often are. Nora, the youngest of the three, wore her hair scraped tightly back and held in place with an elastic band. Her eyes, like Ena’s, were small and sharp, and at thirty-three she was mother of five already. The last of the group was Jackie. She was different to these other two in that she very much resembled a woman. Jackie was a riotous gossip, a big, bosomy sofa of a woman. It was her that Shuggie liked best.

He sat down near them and caught the ending to the saga of Jackie’s latest man. It was guaranteed that the women were always full of good-hearted patter. Twice now they had taken him along on their bingo nights, and as the women drank and howled with laughter, he sat amongst them like a teenager who couldn’t be trusted to stay home alone. He had liked the way they sat easily together. How their bulk surrounded him and the softness of their flash pressed to his side. He liked how they fussed with him, and although he protested, how they pushed his hair from his eyes and licked their thumbs to wipe the corners from his mouth. For the women, Shuggie offered some form of male attention, and it did not matter that he was only sixteen and three months. Under the La Scala bingo tables they had each tried at least once to brush against his…


WHAT? I try to keep this blog family-friendly, so… let’s just say they weren’t still brushing his hair. It seemed a bit out of place, and I thought maybe the narrator would drop the subject, but…


The strokes were too long, too searching…


And I stopped there. I’m no prude; I wrote Best Porn Jokes Ever!! But I’ll stop there.

I’ll admit that Shuggie Bain seems to be well-written, but that was a little too much for me at the beginning of the book. I wasn’t invested enough in the character to read about stuff like that yet.

I guess that’s the problem with books named after the main character; it’s probably going to be exclusively about that character, and I just didn’t want to keep reading about that kid.


Enough about me! What do you think? Would you use your main character’s name for your book title? At what point do you stop reading a novel that won a prestigious award?

  1. I agree – I most likely would not read a book with titled after the name of the main character. I think I most likely would have stopped where your excerpt did, or where you did – just because I don’t want to read about things like that without really knowing the character, and feeling connected with them. It is kind of like movies where the first scene is a gratuitous sex scene, I just don’t want to see that, or if it is absolutely necessary to the plot of the story, let it just be implied. Seems like of good deal of the books that win awards – spend a great deal of time, as my Dad would say – navel-gazing. Not into that, just want a good story, with hidden messages, underlying themes, something that stays with you after you finish the last page. (Thought-provoking post!)

    • “…let it just be implied.”

      Yes, or make it less obvious. And like you suggested, make it a little further in the book.

      If this scene had happened (or been been mentioned) a little later after I’d become invested in the character, I might have thought, “Oh yeah! That explains why he’s like this.”

  2. My main character is named Caius Iulius Restitutus, Do you think I should?

  3. Marilyn Kriete permalink

    I like “a big bosomy sofa of a woman” but, yeah, the under the table description is a bit much. Maybe the Shuggie Bain name has more resonance for readers across the Atlantic. It wouldn’t grab my interest, except when it’s attached to the Booker Prize!

    • “It wouldn’t grab my interest, except when it’s attached to the Booker Prize!”-

      True. That’s the only reason I know about the book.

  4. I don’t have issues with a book named after the title character. But whoa! This is the beginning of the book? I don’t have the words.

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