What would I say to Young Mungo?

25th November 2022 0 By Nandini

Sometimes, you desperately want to enter a book to warn a character you have grown to love in the short time that you have spent together. Or to convince them to leave their story and go home with you to yours. That’s what happened to me when I got to know young Mungo.

I was in Glasgow, witnessing the vicious gang wars that young men engage in. There is Mungo, a Protestant, forced to participate by Hamish, the gang leader and his older brother who is on a mission to teach Mungo the arts of waging war for the pleasure of seeing Catholic boys cut up and scarred. I see Mungo fall in love with James, a Catholic who prefers taming and tending birds to the unleashing of violence, and when his family gets to know, how his mother packs Mungo off to a remote loch with two strange men that she happened to meet just once at Alcoholics Anonymous. To make a real man of him. For Mungo is young. Still only a school going kid, the gentle kind, who must choose between himself and the two men who abuse him far away from home. All in the name of manhood.

But once in Mungo’s world, what can I possibly do to protect him from the reality of his working-class environment, utterly divided along sectarian lines and reeking of hyper masculinity? From the people he belongs to? From his mother, lost in alcoholic haze, who he loves unquestioningly? These thoughts depress me. They remind me of one of the many ways by which our world is divided. Mungo and I wouldn’t be speaking the same language. And I don’t mean English as I know it versus Galswegian as he does.

I have been in Mungo’s world as a visitor, not by stepping into a book, but in real life. I have looked into the eyes of beautiful boys like him. Trapped. Maybe that’s why the book hit me like it did. Too close, too true, too sharp.


The Guardian review of Young Mungo