Douglas Stuart has won the 2020 Booker Prize for his harrowing debut novel Shuggie Bain at this year’s unprecedented “ceremony without walls” broadcast from the Roundhouse performing arts centre in London.
The novel was inspired by Mr Stuart’s own childhood in 1980s Glasgow — growing up gay and impoverished against a backdrop of economic decline — and his relationship with his alcoholic mother, to whom the book is dedicated.
“Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic,” said Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s judging panel, describing the book as “a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values”.
In its review, the Financial Times described Shuggie Bain as “a dysfunctional love story — an interdependence whose every attempt to thrive is poisoned whenever a drink is poured — but here, between a boy and his mother”, adding that the novel “stands out for its immersion into working-class Glaswegian life”.
Mr Stuart, 44, who is based in New York, was the only UK-born writer on this year’s shortlist, and becomes the second Scottish author to win the prize, after James Kelman won in 1994 for his novel How Late It Was, How Late.
The £50,000 prize is the UK’s premier fiction award for works written in English, and there had been surprise in some quarters at the lack of British talent on a shortlist that featured four debut novelists, and authors based in the US (Mr Stuart, Brandon Taylor for Real Life, Diane Cook for The New Wilderness and Maaza Mengiste for The Shadow King), Dubai (Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar) and Zimbabwe (Tsitsi Dangarembga for This Mournable Body).
After the controversy surrounding last year’s Booker, however, when the judging panel took hours to come to an agreement, and defied the rules to split the award between Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, this year’s announcement was notably low key.
The judges took just one hour to reach their decision, according to Ms Busby, who described the selection as an “organic, non-curated process”. This was followed by a largely online prize-giving event, in place of the traditional black-tie dinner at the Guildhall, London, featuring speeches from the Duchess of Cornwall and Barack Obama, former US president.