Douglas Stuart’s Recommended Reading List
Here, the author of Shuggie Bain – our inaugural Monthly Read, and one of the few that straddles both the LGBTQIA+ and working-class genres – shares the foundational works he feels are must-reads.
The Swimming-Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst
This book is really sexy. William Beckwith is a young aristocrat who spends his days cruising men at the swimming pool of a private club, and writing the biography of an elderly Lord. Beckwith is enormously privileged and totally unapologetic about his sexual promiscuity and it’s a wonderful glimpse of gay London before the scourge of Aids.
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
This is Baldwin’s tale of desire, and the failure of that desire, set in 1950s Paris. The abandonment at the end is heartbreaking. Lingering in my mind is the beautiful quote: “If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody.”
As Meat Loves Salt – Maria McCann
I’ve read this so many times. For historical fiction fans of Hilary Mantel or Maggie O’Farrell, it’s like a fleshy, brutal epic that reads like a Gericault painting. An immersive, 17th-century love story set at the time of the English civil war; Jacob Cullen is a disgraced soldier, a violent, possessive man who falls in love with a fellow soldier, and when he cannot have him, destroys him instead.
The Story Of The Night – Colm Tóibín
Set in the early ’80s, Argentina is controlled by oil-rich Americans and power-hungry Generals. A young English professor has been living in the shadow of his mother and hiding his sexual desires. When he is liberated by her death, both he and the country around him are set into a period of enlightenment and upheaval. The loss and grief in the third act left me reeling for days.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
A real British classic. It’s the story of a young girl growing up in the north of England after being adopted by very devout, Pentecostal parents. Jeanette is being raised into the missionary life but she starts to develop sexual attraction towards other women and after the church finds out, they try to exorcise the demons from her.
Maurice – E M Forster
On the surface, this is a tale of privilege, repressed sexuality, and unrequited love. But it’s also a sharp critique of class and manners. I love the final act when Maurice and Scudder fall for one another. I like to read Maurice and then follow up with William Di Canzio’s imagined sequel, Alec, which focuses more on the young lovers as World War I rages, and the world falls apart around them.
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
The arrival of Trainspotting was an earth-shaking cultural moment and it had a huge influence on me. We follow a clutch of Edinburgh junkies and loose friends as they weave together in and out of different stories, some comedic, some utterly tragic. Despite the bleak subject matter, this book sings, and in the darkest moments, it shines with humour and friendship. Every character here is alive – unlikeable or severely damaged, perhaps, but they are still more alive than most.
Morvern Callar – Alan Warner
Another ’90s classic. Set in a West-coast port town, Morvern Callar, a shelf-stacker in the local supermarket, wakes one morning to find her boyfriend has committed suicide. She changes the name on his unpublished manuscript and then hides his festering body. When the stolen manuscript becomes a success and the advances start to pour in, Morvern takes her one chance to escape the run-down town. I have known a hundred Morverns – perhaps we all know people who are stuck – so when I saw a woman seizing her one horrible chance to escape her dire situation, it was hard not to cheer her on.
The End Of Eddy – Édouard Louis
There is a startling universality to this French memoir. Louis speaks so honestly about his own life, growing up as a gay, working-class boy in rural France and the isolation from family, community, class, and even self, that so many queer working-class people experience. He thoughtfully explores what so many of us must lose in order to claim our own true selves. Read, Who Killed My Father, then read everything else he writes. He is a rare voice at the intersections of masculinity, violence, sexuality, poverty, and class.
Too many children in the United Kingdom live in poverty. This brave non-fiction book charts the experiences of the author. As Hudson revisits the hardships of her childhood, she does it with rare grace, and a desire to understand without anger or judgement. It’s always hard to write about growing up poor. It’s a delicate subject to capture without being perceived as condemning the circumstances or the other people who were present. But there is definitely a need to be honest about how brutally hard it is, how detrimental it is to children, and Hudson does this clearly and with well-considered feeling.
A Kestrel For A Knave – Barry Hines
This is the first book I ever read that felt like it was written for me. It follows young Billy Casper and his family who are barely surviving in a run-down coal mining town in the north of England. When Billy rescues a kestrel, he temporarily escapes his hard home life and his spirit soars as the bird takes to the skies. Ken Loach turned it into the classic film, Kes, which is just as powerful as the novel.
Foster – Claire Keegan
I was so grateful for this book set on an Irish farm. It’s a quiet but powerful story about a young girl who is sent to live with distant relatives while her mother is giving birth to another baby. While she is away, she experiences a rare period of calm and love that brings healing to everyone. There is real magic in Keegan’s work.
Young Adam – Alexander Trocchi
This is quite a dark book. A drifter is hired to work on a barge and ends up seducing his boss’s wife. When he finds the body of a young woman floating in the canal, he knows more about her fate than he admits. This is a claustrophobic study of how men and women can use each other, a frank look at casual sex regardless of finer feelings. It was also a great film with Tilda Swinton and Ewan McGregor.