‘The Englishman’ by Douglas Stuart

Queer longing, lemons, and the rural Scottish countryside — what’s not to love? I read this story before the explosion of Stuart’s Booker-Award winning Shuggie Bain, and it stayed with me long after reading. The protagonist, and his to-and-fro with the Englishman who employs him as a ‘houseboy’, are perfectly captured. The dynamic between them is uncomfortably realistic. I adore the contrast in this story: between rich and poor, old and young, the rural Hebridean landscape and the bright lights of London. I love the ever-present thread of lemons that runs through the story, a reminder that no matter how far from home we travel we are always tethered to our past. Stuart’s reflections on family and relationships are always so deeply moving. I particularly enjoyed: “I am the youngest of five brothers, each son fading slightly, becoming paler, more flaxen. It was as though our mother were a rubber stamp that was running out of ink—and she was. She always seemed to be weary.” Ugh! Delicious. A pleasure to read from start to finish.

First published in The New Yorker, September 7 2020, and available to read online for subscribers

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