With Canberra back in lockdown for the first time since the middle of last year, Minerva pivoted (to use current Covid-19 jargon) to meeting via Zoom again. Fortunately, having now experienced Zoom meetings in various aspects of our lives for well over a year, and under the expert chairing of Kate, the meeting ran smoothly. This is just as well, because we had plenty to say about our book, Douglas Bain's Booker prize-winning, Shuggie Bain.
- Struggled with the story, because of its bleakness and brutality, and could only read it when the sun was shining. But appreciated the humour, liked the highly visual descriptions, and thought it explored well themes like violence versus tenderness and love.
- Found it an impressive account of many issues and ideas. Found it bleak at first, but it became unputdownable. Thought it was very much about love, and liked Stuart's comment in his ABC interview that "Art is meant to move you".
- Chose not to read it because of its potential to trigger vicarious trauma, but was interested to hear our discussion.
- Having experienced female alcoholics in her family is unsympathetic to alcoholics, and wished Agnes had "tossed in the towel earlier"! But, loved the writing.
- Had to put it down often because the evocation of poverty is so sad, but loved the interview with Stuart as he came across as such a positive man. Liked that the ending was somewhat positive.
- Was initially hesitant, because feared vicarious trauma, but thinks the novel is a masterpiece. Couldn't put it down. Liked that it was peppered with humour, and its portrayal of children's love for parents.
- Found it both devastating and brilliant (even though had just read another devastating story, Educated). Felt it was accurate about the period (1980s Glasgow). Was really moved.
- Greatly enjoyed it for its descriptive writing, the humour, and the warmth and respect towards its characters. It was bleak, but heart sank most when Shuggie and his mother arrived back in the city, and Shuggie, watching young children play, wonders “what it must feel like ... to be so carefree”. It was so clear that Shuggie had never had that.
- A tricky novel, but mesmerising, immersive, and made you feel as though you were there. Some reviews suggested it could have done with more editing, but doesn't agree because the detail is important to our understanding of the life. The novel redefines love.
- Agrees with everyone else. Loved that it started with Shuggie at nearly 16 because you knew he was going to survive. Masterful management of darkness and light, and loved all the Scottish terms. A very visual book. Shuggie kept you going. Thought Eugene was mean and nasty in encouraging Agnes to have a drink.
- So glad she read it. Brought up important issues, and its truth to domestic violence and alcoholism were spot on.
Further discussionThe discussion that followed was lively, with many ideas being explored:
Alcoholism and addiction
We discussed Agnes' relocation with her family to Pithead, a dying mining town where few had jobs, and how desolate the place was. Shug, we agreed, was truly cruel in taking her there with every intention of leaving her. One member did say however that alcoholics do move, that they are "geographic", believing things will be better when they move.
Our conversation about Shuggie roamed around a bit. We talked about his life, and his dedication to saving his mother. One member commented on the scene near the end where he undresses his mother, and also where he fixes Leanne's mother's dress. These felt very real, as though Douglas had experienced it. As this novel has strong autobiographical elements, we felt he had.
Bibs and bobs
We wondered about Shuggie's older siblings, Catherine and Leek, having no contact with their father.
We talked about the impact of winning prizes on sales. Our booktrade person said that the Booker and Miles Franklin are the biggest awards in Australia in terms of generating sales, but this rarely means they will sell better than popular writers like Liane Moriarty.
Present: 11 members