When you finish an average book, usually you know how you feel about it – you like it, you think a mate might enjoy it, you didn’t like the ending, you were glad to be done with it. In my mind, the sign of an exceptional book, is one that you finish and then wander off vaguely wondering where you left your cup of tea and what day it is, because what you’ve just read is so befuddling and life altering, that every day activities seem mindblowingly hard and it takes ages to resume normal life.
This is how I felt three weeks ago when I finished Shuggie Bain. Little Shuggie, born in to a Glaswegian housing estate in the 80’s, neglected by family and State alike. Shuggie, who should have been born decades later, so people would have a better understanding of his idiosyncrasies and differences. Shuggie, loved by his mother, but so nearly destroyed by her very existence. Let down by practically everyone in his life, and yet managing to maintain his glow of love and force of life throughout.
This is not just a story of a family destroyed by addiction, this was an entire essay on the complete disregard that Thatchers’ government had for the miners and factory workers in the UK during that time. I think the social commentary could have been applied to many towns or cities during that era, but the fact that it was set in Glasgow, amongst the harsh weather and the surrounding countryside, for me gave it a glow of glamour even, which sounds odd. There was very little glamour in anyones life (it seems) during that time and place. But the pure grit of the characters and dogged passion to survive whatever was thrown at them, against all odds. That’s what gave it a glow.
It’s everything a book should be, and its taken me all this time to work that out, and thankfully, I have now found that cup of tea.