I am a sucker for a book that emotionally tears me apart. I felt that with Douglas Stuart's debut novel, Shuggie Bain, when I read it this time last year and I felt that again with his sophomore novel, Young Mungo. The last few follow up novels I have read by authors have fallen flat for me. The saying "sophomore slump" came to mind when reading them and a general feeling of disappointment. I did not feel that with Young Mungo. It met and exceeded all my expectations. Deciding my favorite between Shuggie and Mungo is like choosing your favorite child. It's nearly impossible...though if forced you could make a decisions...*wink*. My recommendation? Read both books. They are both worth your time.
Set in a housing estate Glasgow, Scotland, Mungo and James are from two different worlds. Mungo, a Protestant and James, a Catholic, they must hate each other if they are to be seen as men among their peers, but the two form a strong friendship that blossoms into more. Mungo must hide his true self from his family, while he dreams of a future with James. Months later, Mungo's mother sends him on a fishing trip with two men she barely knows. Mungo recounts his memories with James, while trying to fight to return home.
Similar to Shuggie Bain, Young Mungo is set in Glasgow with a way of speaking that is foreign to me. It takes a few chapters to understand what these characters are saying, but once the reader gets used to it, the story flows. The story is told from dual timelines and begins with Mungo's fishing trip. The reader is not clear who he is with, but it is apparent he does not know the men and they both have questionable pasts. Chapters alternate to Mungo's past with James, his gang leader brother, his sister who essentially is his mother and his absent alcoholic mother. In some ways, the story reminded me of Shuggie Bain, especially with the alcoholic mother and overcompensating son theme.
Mungo spends his life hiding who he is and doing what others expect of him, so he does not stand out. Until he meets James, he really has no drive in life and goes from one situation to the next. He is told who he should be, what he should do, and what makes a man a man, yet no one truly knows what makes him tick, that is until he meets James. Their friendship is a spot of sunshine on a cloudy day.
Young Mungo is one of those books where you will want to take your time and savor every word. I will admit, at times I was bored and at other times I felt like I was re-reading Shuggie Bain, but push through because it is worth it in the end. One of the best reviews I read likened Mungo to an alternate reality of Shuggie. It is in ways, but in others Mungo stands on his own. The second half of the book has a build up of tension that kept me turning the pages and the ending had me broken. I love a book that emotionally destroys me and Young Mungo did in the end.
"It was good to put your weight on someone else, even if it was just for a short while."
Other Books by this Author:
Shuggie Bain (click the title link to read my review)