One of the exceptional qualities Young Mungo shares with its predecessor a penetrating focus on the textures and psychology of squalor. Few writers can write about them as lavishly as Stuart, and you might be tempted to think of him as an Alan Hollinghurst on the wrong side of the track.
There’s an incandescent liveliness to its portrayal of characters shaped and shadowed by the grime of their experience, and as battered and gruesome as they are, you never get a sense of the grotesque or the caricature. Rather the opposite. Even the villains in this book are never less than fully human – sometimes more monstrous for their moments of ordinariness or the way they might bump into type.
Stuart can write sentences to die for – his prose is lively, insightful, perfectly balanced – and at his best (that is, most of the time) he uses his formidable descriptive powers not to wallow in a medium desperate, violent and impoverished, but to deepen our understanding and imagination.
There may be little solace for a cooped-up young man struggling to survive in this Glasgow hood, but Mungo seizes what he secretly can, and we get the bleak solace of reading this tearful filtered through the prism by Stuart. beautiful, incisive and emotionally powerful prose.