57 pages 1 hour read

Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Young Mungo (2022) is the second novel by Douglas Stuart, a former fashion designer turned lauded author. It shares with his first novel, the critically acclaimed Shuggie Bain, themes of abuse, trauma, and coming of age in working class Glasgow. Stuart’s debut novel won the prestigious Booker Prize.

Young Mungo is written in two parts, with flashbacks and flash forwards to Mungo’s experiences in Glasgow and in the Scottish countryside. It is written in third-person omniscient narrative voice, but focuses on Mungo’s experiences and perspectives.

This guide references the 2022 Grove Press edition.

Content Warning: Young Mungo depicts scenes of sexual abuse, anti-gay bias, addiction, and physical abuse.

Plot Summary

In Part 1, “The May After,” readers are introduced to the titular character, a 15-year-old boy named Mungo. Mungo is from a poorer neighborhood in Glasgow, Scotland. His mother has alcohol addiction, so Mungo misses a lot of school to help look after her. After Mungo is jumped by a group of teenagers, his family becomes concerned that he is too weak and too gullible, so they send him away for the weekend with two men who will ostensibly teach him how to be a man. These men, nicknamed St. Christopher and Gallowgate, are also poor and have alcohol addiction. Mungo accompanies them to the Scottish countryside, embarrassed by their behavior and by his own insecurities. He is stunned by the beauty and quiet of the rural landscape.

In Part 2, “The January Before,” the reader is introduced to Mungo’s family. Mungo’s older brother Hamish is 19 years old, the parent of a daughter with his teenage girlfriend, and a gang leader. Hamish’s life is ruled by violence, criminality, and toughness, but he does have a soft spot for his young brother, whom he tries to get involved in the gang. Hamish gives Mungo a knife to carry around for protection.

Mungo’s very bright older sister Jodie, who fills a maternal role for Mungo, is still in high school. She is known as a kind, intelligent girl in the neighborhood. Jodie dreams of going to university, but feels trapped by her married boyfriend, one of her teachers, and her poverty. When Jodie becomes pregnant, her boyfriend disappears. Jodie gets an abortion so that she won’t become like her mother. Ultimately, Jodie defies the odds and gets accepted into university.

Because Mungo’s mother had her children as a teenager, she craves the romance and adventure she believes she missed out on and resents being held back by her kids. When Mungo’s mother is drunk, she often goes on benders that frighten her kids. At the beginning of Part 2, Mo-Maw is missing and Mungo fears she may be dead. Jodie finds her, alive and well, working at a snack stand and dating Jocky, who doesn’t know that she has children. Once he finds out, he breaks up with her and she returns home, ready to get drunk. Mo-Maw’s relationship with Jocky continues on an on-again-off-again basis. Her absence threatens the already fragile stability of their home: Without her, Mungo might be taken away by social services and his siblings may be evicted.

Mungo befriends James, a boy his age who has a makeshift doocot (pigeon coop). James is more like Mungo than the other boys in the neighborhood; they are both gentle and crave happiness, not toughness. James and Mungo’s friendship turns romantic and sexual. They are one another’s first loves, and they escape the harsh bigotry of their community in the privacy of James’s apartment and his doocot. Their relationship is destined to fail, first because of their sexuality, and second because James is Catholic, while Mungo is Protestant. Though religion doesn’t matter to them, it creates division in the community and gives violent street gangs an excuse to fight.

When Hamish finds out about their friendship, he threatens to assault James unless Mungo joins Hamish in a major gang fight. The fight is brutal, and Mungo ends up horribly injured, though he refuses to hurt anyone else. His presence at the fight threatens to ruin his relationship with James, who finds Mungo’s participation in the gang a violation of his authentic moral code. But James also violates his own integrity. His father knows he’s gay and disapproves, so James performs masculinity and tries to get a girlfriend to please his father. All the while, James is saving money from his allowance and planning an escape from Glasgow. Mungo wants to drop out of school and join him.

When Mungo and James make up, Hamish finds them cuddling by the doocot and beats them up. Hamish tells the rest of the family about Mungo and James. Jodie betrays Mungo by encouraging him not to engage in homosexuality; Mungo discovers that even Jodie’s love for him has limits.

Mo-Maw meets two strangers at an AA meeting and reveals that her son Mungo might be gay. She and the men plan a weekend in the countryside where they will teach Mungo how to fish and build a fire—how to be a man. These men are Gallowgate and St. Christopher.

In the Scottish countryside, Gallowgate and St. Christopher continuously get drunk and are mean to Mungo. Their cruelty devolves quickly into sexual abuse. St. Christopher molests Mungo, and Gallowgate repeatedly rapes him. It is revealed that both men are recently released ex-convicts who were incarcerated for pedophilia and sexual assault of minors. While fishing, Mungo drowns Christopher. He hides the body, and endures repeated rapes by Gallowgate, who assumes Christopher is asleep and drunk in the other tent. When Gallowgate finds Christopher’s body, they submerge the corpse into the lake to avoid suspicion. Gallowgate attempts to gaslight Mungo into believing that he wanted, deserved, and enjoyed being raped. But Gallowgate is still concerned that, once back in Glasgow, Mungo will send him back to prison or set his notoriously violent brother on him. Gallowgate attempts to drown Mungo in the lake, but Mungo stabs Gallowgate with Hamish’s knife. Gallowgate dies, and Mungo hitchhikes back to Glasgow.

The weekend in the countryside and his experience with James traumatize Mungo away from childhood and into adulthood. When he returns to Glasgow, he finds that his family has been concerned about him. Mo-Maw even called the police, though the police were more concerned that Mo-Maw would send her child away with strangers. As Mungo sees James across the street, packed and waiting for the bus to escape Glasgow, the police pull up asking to speak to Mungo about a dead body found by a lake in the countryside. Hamish volunteers himself as Mungo, and James beckons to Mungo to join him in his escape.

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By Douglas Stuart