Granville Island Pairings: Booker Prize Winner Shuggie Bain

This series pairs recently released books with items from some of our favourite Granville Island shops. This week, Festival Assistant Aditya Bhagirath tries his best with cloudy skies and a cup of tea.

T.S. Eliot famously wrote that “April is the cruelest month”–clearly, he had never been to Vancouver in November, right after daylight saving time ends. You’d think gaining an hour would only be cause for a slightly re-organized work schedule and snacking out more than usual–but then comes the darkness. One moment it’ll be 4pm and the sun is still looming high above (albeit hidden by tempestuous rain clouds); the next, the sun has officially clocked out, careening below the horizon faster than you can snap your fingers.

There’s no doubt about it: the adjustment is tough. Not just tough, but unmerciful. The early steps of creeping darkness, no matter how hard we may try to control our lives and rearrange ourselves to fit within it, always hangs brutally above us; a reminder of just how helpless we can be. We sleep in, or not sleep at all. We may talk on FaceTime to our close ones, or we flip our phone screen down and keep it in another room. There’s no cure, but we try our best, don’t we?

The same could be said of the sweet and loyal Shuggie Bain, the eponymous character of Douglas Stuart’s blistering debut novel. Winner of the Booker Prize 2020, Shuggie Bain is powerful and heartbreaking in its honesty. Shuggie, the youngest of three children, is in charge of taking care of his alcoholic mother, Agnes, while trying to survive under the austerity of Thatcherism in Glasgow, Scotland. The world is filled with dark clouds, whether they are pointed barbs from the people around you or the struggle of day-to-day living in a state of hopelessness. Shuggie and Agnes only have each other to support, protect, lash out at, love. It’s not perfect, but it’s still something.

Lately, I have found great comfort in tea. As a longtime coffee devotee (blame Gilmore Girls), I have only recently been exposed to the sheer variety and depth of flavour that tea can hold. Perusing the glossy yet earthy packages of teas at the Granville Island Tea Company, I can already feel the warmth enveloping me. The toll that reading about painfully real characters and situations, such as those in Shuggie Bain, is not to be underestimated. But as I hunker down under my weighted blanket, preparing to immerse myself once more in Stuart’s startling prose with a mug of steaming oolong on my bedside table, I remind myself that I just need to take one step at a time. I tell the same thing to Shuggie and Agnes. They can’t hear me, but I like to think that those thoughts, my own and those of everyone in the world, will still find a way to permeate into the world. It’s not enough to just think that into existence of course, but it’s a fleeting moment of comfort before we buckle up again tomorrow. We’ll try our best.


Aditya Bhagirath