I started a novel. Reading, not writing. It’s Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. I can’t remember how I ended up there but I was looking for talks by authors on recent Scottish fiction on the Youtube’s (I’m bringing back the definite article and the apostrophe s at the end of words, it’s gonna be great) and one of the videos by Stuart talking about a bunch of books I’ve never read, and also Trainspotting, and he was very charming and the books he talked about all sounded great so I looked and my library had his book and I think none of the ones he recommended, so I got his book.

It’s very good but kind of crushingly sad, which I should have seen coming and altered course, a thing I think often, but I did not. I realized how sad it was once I was far enough in that I couldn’t stop (I kind of dove in, got immersed without reflecting, feeling sad more than thinking ‘I feel sad’, which is generally what I like to do with novels; I want to have smarter thoughts about them but I also like to sort of just not think, tune out and be taken for a ride somewhere). I mean obviously I could stop but now there would be costs to doing so, so I’m going to see this sad, lovely book through to the end.

It’s set in Scotland in the 80s and 90s, amid working class people being discarded generally by government as the social context for the story, and doing a fair bit of letting each other down, with the novel focusing in closely on individuals living through that. It’s really sad so far, just people failing themselves and each other because they’re in contexts that foster that. Reminds me of people I’ve known. I could imagine people disliking it but I think it’s lovely though pretty brutal. One of things I appreciate in it is that people are playing the hands their dealt, variously well and badly in pretty consequential ways, and the book is also clear that they’ve been dealt really shit hands. People appear as agents in circumscribed contexts, subjects and objects, with working class fate an emergent result – a shit one most of the time – of how agency and context interact.

Lots on de-industrialization, unemployment, poverty, family as shelter from and prison amid those trends, and on gender and addiction, all stuff I want to think more about, but later, as it’s getting late and I’m tired (as per). For now, why read this, what’s the appeal when it’s so sad? I don’t mean this as a rude question or a critical one, I like the book a lot and am glad I’m reading it though I also don’t have a lot of emotional reserves myself these days, kind of running on fumes a lot of the time so it’s weird to read something taxing. It’s left me wondering why I like sad art, and this sad art in particular. With this book I like that it’s a realistic depiction of working class people, people like a lot of people I’ve known in my life and amid contexts like those I and people I know have lived through (or in some cases died from). While it’s bleak and sad, there’s something dignifying to it – nobody’s two dimensional here, and I just appreciate having these life experiences reflected in (and reflected upon through) a work of art. I thing I also appreciate it because it focuses on socially discarded people without treating them as such, it’s a series of looks in the face, so to speak. I’d like to read more books like this, though I might have to pace myself since it is so sad.