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Scottish author Douglas Stuart wins the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain

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Scottish author Dougglas Stuart wins the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain

In a year when the Booker prize shortlist featured a gallery of relative unknowns, the prize has gone to a novel that deals with familiar themes, albeit one that deals with these themes in a dazzling style. Shuggie Bain is Scottish author Douglas Stuart’s debut. At 44, Stuart is no doubt a latecomer to penning literary fiction, but you’d never guess it given the assured tone and pacing of this novel.

Shuggie Bain’s narrative echoes Stuart’s own experiences growing up in 1980s Glasgow. Shuggie’s mother is a hopeless, chronic alcoholic and Shuggie himself, at 16 years of age, is beginning to grasp the consequences of his own sexuality. As we mentioned, the themes here are nothing new, particularly when it comes to Scottish novels, sexuality and addiction are never far from the centre of the narrative. What makes Shuggie Bain stand out is the completely unpretensious ease of the prose and the unburdened clarity of the story, an attitiude that seems a clear reflection of its authors own outlook. Stuart describes himself as “a working-class kid who had a different career and came to writing late”. Stuart’s voice is very much its own, and the most refreshing aspect of Shuggie Bain, despite its themes, is that somehow Stuart manages to make his setting seem new, occasionally joyful.

Upon learning he had won, Stuart tearfully described himself as “absolutely stunned”. He thanked his mother, who is “on every page of this book – I’ve been clear without her I wouldn’t be here, my work wouldn’t be here”.

He also thanked “the people of Scotland especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book”.

The Booker Prize has come in for controversy since it opened up to candidates from outside the British Isles back in 2014, with purists expressing concern that the prize had lost sight of its original intention of promoting literary talent in the UK and Ireland. This year, all shortlisted novelsits except for  Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga are American or hold dual US citizenship. Stuart himself moved from Glasgow to New York when he was 24.

‘More discovery than usual’ … clockwise from top left: Avni Doshi, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Douglas Stuart, Maaza Mengiste, Diane Cook and Brandon Taylor. Composite: Sharon Haridas; Hannah Mentz; Clive Smith; Bill Adams; Katherine Rondina; Nina Subi

Despite the seeming American stranglehold on the prize this year, there is more diversity displayed in this years’ shortlist than ever before. With four writers of colour among its six authors, the shortlist, announced on Tuesday, is the most diverse line-up in the prize’s history. It also includes a record four debut novelists – Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor.