Stuart Douglas is the 2020 Booker Prize winner

Douglas Stuart

In this handout image released by the Booker Prize on November 19, 2020, Douglas Stuart, the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction for his book "Shuggie Bain" which was announced at The Roundhouse in London on November 19, 2020.  

Photo credit: Martyn Pickersgill | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Shuggie Bain is Stuart’s first novel.
  • Stuart, 44, dedicated the book to his own mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.

Scottish author Douglas Stuart has won the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain.

The virtual awards ceremony was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, BBC iPlayer and BBC Arts Digital on November 19 from London’s Roundhouse in England.

Margaret Busby, 2020 chairperson of judges, announced Douglas Stuart’s win, and Stuart appeared via a special screen to be awarded the £50,000 prize and deliver an acceptance speech. He received a trophy, a designer-bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

Shuggie Bain is Stuart’s first novel. Based on his own childhood, it is a searing account of a young boy growing up in Thatcher’s Glasgow of the 1980s, with a mother who is battling addiction. Stuart, 44, dedicated the book to his own mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.

Shuggie Bain is set in Glasgow in 1981. The city is dying. Poverty is on the rise. People watch the lives they had hoped for disappear from view. Agnes Bain had always expected more.

She dreamed of greater things: a house with its own front door, a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect – but false – teeth). When her philandering husband leaves, she and her three children find themselves trapped in a mining town decimated by Thatcherism. As Agnes increasingly turns to alcohol for comfort, her children try their best to save her. Yet one by one they have to abandon her in order to save themselves.

It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. But Shuggie has problems of his own: despite all his efforts to pass as a ‘normal boy,’ everyone has decided that Shuggie is ‘no right’. Agnes wants to support and protect her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her, including her beloved Shuggie.


Laying bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride, Shuggie Bain is a blistering and heartbreaking debut, and an exploration of the unsinkable love that only children can have for their damaged parents.

Stuart said in an interview for The Booker Prize website that the 1994 Booker winner, How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman changed his life because it was one of the first times he had seen his people and dialect on the page.

Busby, who is an editor, literary critic and former publisher, said: “Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic – a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values. The heart-wrenching story tells of the unconditional love between Agnes Bain – set on a descent into alcoholism by the tough circumstances life has dealt her – and her youngest son. Shuggie struggles with responsibilities beyond his years to save his mother from herself, at the same time as dealing with burgeoning feelings and questions about his own otherness.”

“Gracefully and powerfully written, this is a novel that has impact because of its many emotional registers and its compassionately realised characters. The poetry in Douglas Stuart’s descriptions and the precision of his observations stand out: nothing is wasted,” Busby added.

After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Stuart moved to New York to start a career in fashion design, working for brands including Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Gap. He started writing in his spare time a decade ago. His work has since appeared in LitHub and in The New Yorker, which has published two of his short stories this year.

Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart

Scottish author Douglas Stuart's debut novel, Shuggie Bain.

Stuart is currently finishing his second novel, Loch Awe. It is set in 1990’s Glasgow, and is the tale of two teenage boys, who fall in love despite being divided along territorial, sectarian lines. It takes a look at toxic masculinity and the pressure we place on working-class boys to ‘man up.’ “I wanted to show how young men growing up in extreme poverty can be some of the most victimised and overlooked people in British society. I am always looking for tenderness in the hardest places,” he says.

Booker Prize 2020 shortlist

The other five authors on the Booker Prize 2020 shortlist were: Diane Cook (USA), The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications); Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), This Mournable Body (Faber and Faber); Avni Doshi (USA), Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House); Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA), The Shadow King (Canongate Books); and Brandon Taylor (USA), Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing). The shortlist was selected from 162 submitted books.

Busby was joined on the jury by Lee Child, author and critic; Sameer Rahim, author and critic; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; and Emily Wilson, classicist and translator.

The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020.

The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner receives a further £50,000 and can expect instant international recognition.

The 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction was won jointly by The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.