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How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

How Late It Was, How Late (1994)

by James Kelman

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
good book but not what i really expected.
  danojacks | Jan 5, 2017 |
James Kelman's novel "How Late It Was, How Late" won the Booker Prize, but I'm not really sure why. The stream-of-consciousness story goes on and on but there is no real payoff in the end and lots of loose ends that never get tied up.

The story is told in stream-of-consciousness style, following our narrator Sammy who goes on a two-day drinking binge, inexplicably wakes up and picks a fight with police, who beat him and cause him to go blind.

The novel is written in Glasgow vernacular, but the language didn't come across to me when reading it. (As opposed to Trainspotting, which was just so good at putting Scottish voices in my head.)

I wasn't impressed with the story itself or the language. ( )
  amerynth | Mar 23, 2015 |
This was read by me only because it won the 1994 Booker prize. I have now read every such winner since 1992 and there are only 12 Booker winners I have not read. I hope this is the worst of the ones I have not read. It is a stream of consciousness novel told in the first person by Sammy, a 38-year-old ex-convict who gets, while drunk, in a fight with police and is blinded. What he is able to do while blinded seems pretty non-credible but the most annoying thing about the novel is the totally obsessive overuse of the Anglo-Saxon word for copulate. There is absolutely no sense in the excess appearance of the word and if it was excised fromk the book I would guess the book would be 50 pages shorter. And of course that use adds nothing to the narrative and constantly repulses the reader. If it were not for that defect the story is a bit interesting though not at all believable. Sammy constantly changes his mind and his decisions make no sense at all. We never do find out what became of Helen, his girlfriend, and his son, Peter, gives him money at the end of the book and apparently Sammy is going to go to England. A frustrating and revolting and most irritating book, which is easily one of tthe worst Booker winners I have ever read. It apparently intends to duplicate Glagow gutterish speech, but what reason there is for spelling "your" as "yer" escaped me, since I at least pronounce yer and your the same. Apparently the author just wanted the book to be a bit harder to read. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Dec 4, 2014 |
I have a thing for the Vintage publisher series of books- nice graphic design cover, red spines all lined up nicely together on my shelf. Plus, I am slowly working through old Booker Prize winners, so this 1994 book fit the bill on a few counts. But when I started reading it, I was disappointed to see that from the get-go it is written not only in colloquial Glaswegian (no speech marks or even full-stops sometimes), but also in a stream of consciousness style. YIKES I thought. But after a few pages these styles grew on me. I mean really grew. So much so in fact that I feel now that this story could not have been told in nearly such an effective way without them.

We start (and end) with Sammy who is down and out. He wakes up with little memory of an alcohol-fueled weekend and spots some police officers who he decides to pick a fight with. So begins the story that is a week in the life of what sounds like a typical geezer from Glasgow. Only, very early on in this week or so of his life, Sammy goes blind. From this, let's face it, catastrophic event we get to see how Sammy copes with the fear and emotional turmoil that sets in with the realisation that he cannot, and may not ever see again. Because this revelation of his 'softer side' is written by his jumpy thoughts and many many swear words, it is so distinctive. I cant think of a time I have read such in-depth heart-felt commentary from such un-eloquent character. His thoughts jump from place to place, affectionately and angrily using the 'C' word to refer to all and sundry, revealing through repetition and just the volume of his head chatter his fears and feelings, his loves and his memories. He is alone. No one is offering help and he wouldn't take it if it were because of distrust of the establishment and his hatred of the monied upper classes. He manages OK, he always has and always will. It all adds up to a very deep book masquerading as the rantings of a down-trodden no-hoper. ( )
  LovingLit | Mar 23, 2014 |
After a two-day drinking binge, Sammy wakes up to realize he has lost his good shoes, part of his memory, his girlfriend, and, after getting into a scrap with the police, his eyesight. It's not a riveting plotline, admittedly, but Kelman creates magic with his main character, a shifty ex-con who is terrified of authority and fatalistic to a fault. Sammy's ponderings and ramblings are nothing short of mesmerizing - it's like Kelman somehow poured the character's mind straight onto paper. Sammy completely draws you in with his stream-of-consciousness descriptions of getting used to his new-found disability and how he manages himself (or fails to) in a Kafkaesque red-tape society - you can't help but to be sympathetic to his fate, although he is in no way an agreeable character (albeit sometimes unintentionally funny).

Obviously, besides the descriptions of Sammy's very checkered past and present, a huge part of the novel deals with the claustrophobia sudden blindness would cause. There's a scene where Sammy, lost in thought, misses a turn on his way home and realizes he had no idea where he is. He senses that someone is following him, but can't be sure if there is really someone there, and who that someone might be, or if it's a "a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain," to borrow a line from Mr. Shakespeare. Even if Sammy is holding it together on the outside, he relays perfectly the utter panic you'd feel were you in the same situation. For the record, James Kelman isn't blind, although he could have fooled me, so well does he describe it.

It isn't always a very pleasant read and if you have a problem with foul language, you may have a slight issue with Sammy's Glaswegian working-class vernacular. If you need another reason to read it, one of the Booker Prize judges stormed off the judges' panel in protest when it won and, as much as I'm for not judging people for their taste in literature, I suspect that particular judge is an eedjit who shouldn't be allowed to have any public opinion about literature ever again. Not recommended for everyone, but for those who are character-readers and would like a view into someone else's mind, this is quite spectacular. ( )
6 vote -Eva- | Sep 18, 2013 |
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Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard, Agnes Owens and Jeff Torrington are still around, thank christ
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Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye not do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there's something wrong; there's something far wrong; ye're no a good man, ye're just no a good man.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039332799X, Paperback)

"Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there's something wrong; there's something far far wrong; ye're no a good man, ye're just no a good man." From the moment Sammy wakes slumped in a park corner, stiff and sore after a two-day drunk and wearing another man's shoes, James Kelman's Booker Prize-winning novel How Late it Was, How Late loosens a torrent of furious stream-of-consciousness prose that never lets up. Beaten savagely by Glasgow police, the shoplifting ex-con Sammy is hauled off to jail, where he wakes to a world gone black. For the rest of the novel he stumbles around the rainy streets of Glasgow, brandishing a sawed-off mop handle and trying in vain to make sense of the nightmare his life has become. Sammy's girlfriend disappears; the police question him for a crime they won't name; the doctor refuses to admit that he's blind; and his attempts to get disability compensation tangle in Kafkaesque red tape. Gritty, profane, darkly comic, and steeped in both American country music and working class Scottish vernacular, Sammy's is a voice the reader won't soon forget. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:53 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In Scotland, the portrait of a petty crook who had one run-in with police too many. It is a series of reflections as he sits in jail, contemplating his fate. He had been in trouble before, but this time it's different, the latest brawl with police cost him his eyesight. Now in addition to all his other troubles he is blind.… (more)

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