In the suspenseful opening to Douglas Stuart’s second novel, Young Mungo, it isn’t clear if 15-year-old Mungo is being kidnapped or freely going with the 2 males who acquire him from his mom.
After the primary dozen or so pages, it regularly turns into obvious that the lads, “two alkies” that his mom had met at a gathering of Alcoholics’ Anonymous, are strolling him via the suburbs of Glasgow along with her permission, taking him out of city on a fishing expedition for “masculine pursuits”. The males’s distorted interpretation of that phrase is revealed solely within the second half of the novel.
Review: Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (Picador)
Working-class Glasgow, late Eighties
Like Stuart’s first novel, the Booker prize-winning Shuggie Bain, this one is ready in Glasgow and the chief protagonists, the Hamilton household, dwell (just like the Bain household) in one of many metropolis’s working-class housing schemes.
Young Mungo seems to be set at about the identical time – that’s, within the late Eighties, when the Thatcher authorities was shutting down the Glasgow shipyards and dock staff had been being “laid off by some suit-wearing snobs in Westminster who couldnae discover Glasgow on a map, who didnae give a flyin’ fuck if the lads had households to feed”.
Subtly, by levels, Stuart introduces his readers to the violence on the Glasgow schemes that infects the lives of the teenage Mungo, his household and neighbours – virtually as pervasively because the damp that seeps into their residences and stairwells.
Mungo is a delicate boy who’s afraid of his older brother Hamish’s violent bodily outbursts. Close to his older sister, he each relies on and protects her.
He didn’t like Jodie to come back house to an empty home. He wished to have the lights on earlier than she returned from the café.
Emotionally enmeshed together with his mom, unable to withstand her drunken pleas to share her mattress, his behaviour is usually puppy-like: biting a windowsill, as an example, when overwhelmed by the extraordinary emotional squalls that rage in his household.
His mom Maureen insists that her youngsters name her “Mo-Maw”, as a result of she needs strangers to assume that she is their older sister. Nicknamed “Tattie-bogle”, from when the kids first seen how “vindictive and rotten” she may grow to be after sustained ingesting, she is incapable of motherhood and struggles to maintain her life collectively between ingesting bouts. Mostly out of labor and unable to look after her youngsters, Mo-Maw seeks love along with her on-off boyfriend “Jocky” – or when he rejects her, within the arms of single males from different flats on the stairwell.
One afternoon when looking for his mom, Mungo visits Jocky’s pawn store and over a cup of tea, the latter advises him:
“At ma age love is a nuisance of a factor. What ye need is a few straightforward firm on a Tuesday evening … and if yer fortunate a little bit of nookie so long as ye can each lie on yer aspect whereas ye’re at it.”
As this excerpt suggests, Stuart weaves Glaswegian argot into his novel to good impact. Most of the jargon is intelligible, though some readers may want an web search engine to translate phrases like “oxter” (armpit), “scunner” (a powerful dislike) and “sleekit” (artfully flattering or sly).
Hamish justifies his bullying and tormenting of Mungo on the grounds that he needs to “make a person” of him, in a lot the identical approach that Mo-Maw did when she despatched him on that fishing journey with two alcoholic males. They had been St Christopher – a homeless man in his 50s who lived in hostels and generally the gutter, and wore tweeds and brogues; and Gallowgate – a heavy-drinking, sexually boastful carpet layer, about Hamish’s age and really very like him. “They had been moody, self-made demigods who demanded fixed choices and will flip vengeful for no motive.”
If you need to reduce bullying in colleges, take a look at the ‘invisible violence’ in our society
Cautionary tales towards imposing masculinity
There are cautionary tales right here for moms and brothers who assume they know what’s greatest for sons and youthful brothers, whether or not homosexual or not. “Making a person” of somebody is solely subjective – and could be merciless and wounding, each mentally and bodily.
The all-pervading violence in Hamish’s life contains not solely beating and intimidating Mungo (“Ye’re that gentle I’m shocked you will have sufficient bones to face upright”), but additionally territorial battles with the gang he instructions, combating with Catholic youths. He and his gang members steal vehicles, vandalise work depots and when bored, sniff glue or bait the aged, effeminate Mr Calhoun, often known as “Poor-Wee-Chickie”, until he responds. They:
feign harm, batter him, and remind him of his low place … This one artificial them really feel higher. When everybody checked out them like they had been nothing … he nonetheless had much less.
This properly encapsulates how bodily violent masculinity retains the sexual order in place. Meanwhile, Hamish himself has a pleasant little sideline in promoting “dank” cannabis to college freshers from southern England and Edinburgh, for whom he has nothing however a smiling contempt:
Ah assume they’ve had the Walkman too loud when their mammies had been telling them about Glesga being stuffed with peasants. Daft cunts thought she stated it was stuffed with pheasants.
Mungo’s life is, nevertheless, not solely loveless, nor devoid of compassion and kindness. The individuals who love Mungo are his sister Jodie and his boyfriend James. The people who find themselves sort and look after him embrace their neighbours, Mrs Campbell and Poor-Wee-Chickie.
Jodie, a vibrant pupil, can be Mungo’s surrogate mom. Astute and insightful, she’s typically in battle with their mom over the care Mo-Maw fails to supply him – and livid to the purpose of violence at Mo-Maw’s abandoning them whereas she dates Jocky and cooks for and takes care of his youngsters. To enhance her possibilities of getting a spot at Glasgow University, Jodie has informal intercourse in a caravan park along with her historical past trainer: “he would sweat on prime of her for 4 minutes and fall quick asleep”. For cash to feed Mungo and herself, she has a part-time job in an Italian cafe.
A society craving for safety divides alongside strains of liquid worry
Because of the sectarian divide on the scheme and within the East End the place the Hamilton household dwell, James and Mungo mustn’t have grow to be mates, not to mention boyfriends. At their first assembly, nevertheless, it’s clear that James is perhaps the primary male that Mungo can belief: “When he handed him one thing, Mungo didn’t have to flinch.” On parting after that first assembly, James asks Mungo: “Haud on. Will you come again the morra?”
And so a budding friendship begins. On their first evening sleeping collectively (no intercourse), the boys trade tales of their moms’ cooking and care. James, whose personal mom is useless, is aware of Mo-Maw’s inadequacies as a guardian; when Mungo tells him that, on the dying of his father, she stated she was “going to place herself first”, James replies: “that’s not what mammies are presupposed to do”.
Stuart embeds class consciousness in his pages with a fragile contact. For instance, there’s a pleasant, passing statement of “moms who rubbernecked from heat Saabs” as Mungo’s mom serves sizzling meals to lorry drivers from a caravan on a site visitors island. On one other event, as Mungo goes out looking for Mo-Maw, he passes “good households … settled in entrance of their televisions” alongside the best way, in addition to “grand buildings, heavy with Corinthian columns, that the Tobacco Lords had constructed for themselves”.
Stuart expertly conveys Mungo’s philosophical acceptance of how his household is handled – the category wounds, in case you like – and the remedy he endures from his violent older brother and neglectful mom. His bond with Jodie, his love for and perception in James, and the kindness and assist he receives from Poor-Wee-Chickie maintain him via most of his torments. He’s equally sustained by his barely paradoxical dedication to see some good in his brother Hamish and his mom, however their “mercurial” remedy of him.
There is, in different phrases, a welcome absence of resentment or anger for sophistication accidents that don’t essentially kill or cripple the principal characters.
Inside the ‘man field’: how inflexible concepts of ‘manning up’ hurt younger males and people round them
Young Mungo is a celebration of two younger homosexual males’s survival and love. Stuart makes clear which characters (and by implication, which sorts) he regards as chargeable for perpetrating the sexual, gendered violence that nearly destroys Mungo, James and others like them.
I think that he does so to point out that the violence on the schemes is just not one thing that happens as a result of the individuals dwelling there are violent by nature or delivery. Instead, he gives an perception into the structural causes behind it, similar to poverty, city decay and different collateral injury which Zygmunt Bauman argued accompanied de-industrialisation.
Stuart implicitly rejects the concept of imposed manhood, as epitomised by the clichéd catchphrase “man up”. At its core lies an unsubtle understanding of what’s a person and what younger males ought to/ought/should grow to be so as to withstand the bullying of dominating or bodily violent males like Gallowglass and Hamish. (Poor-Wee-Chickie, as an example, has significantly extra ethical braveness than Gallowglass and Hamish, however wouldn’t know the way to “man up” within the conventional sense.)
And that model of “manning up” can reinforce a corrupted type of masculinity the place sure males imagine that they’re all-powerful. We in Australia have seen that performed out in East Timor, Afghanistan (the continuing Ben Roberts-Smith libel case) and the Australian Defence Force Academy (the place bastardisation of recent cadets goes again at the very least three a long time), amongst different locations.
Stuart’s second novel is, like his first, a properly advised story of working-class life and love in Glasgow. He explores the probabilities that exist – virtually towards the percentages – for younger homosexual individuals within the housing schemes, or equally impoverished settings, to search out safe love.
Without preaching, Young Mungo underlines how alcohol impacts not simply the “alkies” themselves, but additionally their youngsters and mates. And crucially, it exhibits how violent, dominating masculinity impacts not simply its perpetrators, however the women and men who’re their mates, household and neighbours.
Peter Robinson doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.