How late it was how late discussion blog

by justineb89

By: Justine Burlo and Jennie MacPhee-Woodburn 

James Kelman has been known to say make many controversial statements regarding literature, culture and politics. For example, during his acceptance speech for the Booker Prize, Kelman is quoted saying “My culture and my language have a right to exist”. Similarly, How Late It Was, How Late has been deemed but several critics to be a violent, brutal piece, however besides Sammys encounter with the police there are no other examples of physical brutality in the novel.

As Kelman is quoted saying in an interview with Lesley Mcdowell from The Independant newspaper, “It just depends – you have to look below the surface for what the real attack is, and the real attack on my own work is usually quite a political attack, you know. Often it’s just class: I usually get asked at some point, do I still believe the working class exists? Sometimes you forget about notions of class until you realise the class attacks are being perpetrated from the other classes against working-class people,” he explains. “And it might be through the medium of language and the education system, or it might be through claims for industrial disease, which is basically a working-class condition. And then you’re aware that sure, there’s class warfare, but it’s usually directed against the working-class people from above.”

As previously stated, How Late It Was, How Late has been criticized as being an aggressive and violent piece full of profanity. However it is one of Kelmans several attempts to address the issues of the Scottish middle class as well as allow outsiders the opportunity, through the eyes of Sammy, to understand the struggle of survival individuals in the scottish middle class face.

Critics have described How Late It Was, How Late as a violent text. How can it be violent when there are no guns or knives and there is no brawling? 

The welfare bureaucracy in How Late It Was, How Late persecutes Sammy rather than helps him. Are there any clues in the text as to why Kelman’s vision of society is so grim? 

Why did Kelman choose to call his book How Late It Was, How Late? How does the title relate to the novel?

Works Cited 

Mcdowell, Lesley. “James Kelman: Look back in anger”. The Independent. 21 May 2004. 8 February 2009.




6 Comments to “How late it was how late discussion blog”

  1. The story can seem violent by the language and his thoughts. They often seem somewhat hostile. But this does not mean that Sammy is violent. Although Sammy has this violent thoughts he does not seem to act on them in the book. There was a bit of violence at the beginning of the novel with the Police officers, they seemed to be aggressive towards Sammy.

    Maybe the title “How Late It was, How late” relates to Kelmans feeling for how people think it is ” to late” for Sammy to go anywhere in life. Or for how people see where Sammy lives that area of Glasgow. That is “to late” for that area and the people living in it.

  2. I believe that question 2 ties directly into question 1. This is because of the way in which Kelman describes the surroundings of Sammy. Throughout the novel it’s always presented to us that everyone is out to do the other person in. As well, Sammy’s own view of the world is quite bleak.

    In this way we could see a type of violence due to a lack of care and humanistic concern. When Sammy comes in contact with any of the welfare secretaries or public officials, it’s always a cold, short, apathetic sort of relationship. From this perspective we can see that Sammy’s world is actually pretty grim as few people are willing to lend him a hand.

    This could also tie into question 3 nicely when you think about it as perhaps what is meant by “How late it was, how late”, could be the fact that it’s “too late” for society. Much like many dystopian novels, Kelman’s book could be a reflection on how he sees society and his harsh view of it.

    Overall it does seem to kind of make sense as Sammy’s interactions are quite unfriendly and nobody seems to have the time or care for his life or his troubles.

  3. Regarding the last question you pose about the title of the novel “How Late it is, How Late”, I believe it relates to how Sammy find himself subject to the bureaucracies of the system, and all he wasnt to do is escape the vicious style is life has fallen into. He no longer wants to depend on welfare from the government, he knows the authorities don’t believe he is blind, he is tired of waiting for a positive response. So i believe that this is why he decides to leave, perhaps escaping or perhaps just trying to give a positive spin to his life. ” How late it was, how late” for me reads as if its never to late for a new beginning.

  4. There is no doubt that the novel is aggressive, violent and bursting at the seams with profanity. However, I think that for many people it is easiest just to stop there and dismiss it as an unfortunate accident of literature, rather than realize that this method of writing was used purposely by Kelman to convey a message. The most violent aspect of this book is that it presents the biased view of an obviously flawed and often unlikeable character. There is no sugar coating or explaining of why Sammy has so many problems. Further there is no epic ending in which he “finds” himself and makes any sort of life changing discovery that will lead him to a sure path of success. The violent thing about this kind of story is that it makes readers question whether a “happy ending” is possible in every situation…because in this case Sammy’s fate seems mediocre at best. This translates directly into Kelman’s view of society, which I would argue is more realistic than grim. Kelman’s depictions of the cold and uncompassionate bureaucracy can be seen as aggressive and violent in itself, since it illustrates the flaws and shortcomings of institutions that are otherwise seen as responsible and accountable authorities.

  5. Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons the jury picked How late it was, how late to win the Booker prize was to some extent for shock value. The group may have found it would surprise people, generate discussion and include an audience which is often forgotten or disregarded, and who may in fact love this type of writing. I am sure the individuals who make up the jury would have liked to show off a degree of modernity, avant garde or edgy thinking when choosing Kelman’s novel. Which is sad for if true it greatly belittles the lit acheivements of the book. Was it considered a work of art by the group or was it merrely used as a tool to make them appear more forward thinking or unpredicatble for a media (but no sales) frenzy?

  6. I must admit that the title of this book puzzled me. I think that is was too late for Sammy to turn his life around – however good his intention. I am sure that wherever he ended up after “leaving” that he gravitated to the same type of situation in dubious neighbourhood of a large city. But maybe for Sammy the “leaving” was purely symbolic, because his blindness would not enable him to experience any other reality other than that he had always known.

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