LONDON – Scottish writer Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for fiction Thursday for “Shuggie Bain,” a novel about a boy’s turbulent coming of age in hardscrabble 1980s Glasgow that was turned down by 32 publishers before being picked up.
Stuart, 44, won the prestigious 50,000 pound ($66,000) award for his first published novel, the product of a decade of work. He was the only U.K.-born author on a U.S.-dominated list of six finalists for the prize, which is open to English-language novels from around the world.
A former fashion designer who is based in New York, Stuart drew on his own experiences growing up gay in economically ravaged Thatcher-era Glasgow for the story of young Shuggie and his relationship with his alcoholic mother, Agnes. Stuart dedicated the book to own mother, who died when he was 16.
“My mother is in every page of this book, and without her I wouldn’t be here and my work wouldn’t be here,” said Stuart, who declared himself “absolutely stunned” to win.
The novel’s sweep, vivid characters and unflinching look at poverty have been compared to the work of Charles Dickens, but Stuart said it was rejected repeatedly before being published by Grove Atlantic in the U.S. and Picador in the U.K.
Stuart told reporters after his victory that publishers praised his book but "didn’t know how to connect it with readers.
“Working-class Scotland was difficult for them,” Stuart said. He said his victory was a sign that “we are starting to hear and be able to respect diverse voices.”
Publisher and editor Margaret Busby, who chaired the judging panel, said “Shuggie Bain” was intimate and gripping, challenging but hopeful in its exploration of Shuggie’s burgeoning sexuality and the complex but loving relationship between mother and son.