How Late It Was, How Late

by joeyjddavis

by Joey Davis

 

            “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.” These words can only begin to explain the uncertainty and confusion expressed by Sammy Samuels in How Late It Was, How Late.  Sammy is a shoplifting ex-con who awakes in an alley one morning and starts a fight with a pair of plainclothes police officers.  His story does not become much more pleasant as his struggle leaves him blind and he is forced to struggle through the maze-like system that is the welfare bureaucracy.

This novel tells Sammy’s story in a gripping stream of consciousness, meaning everything is expressed and presented exactly as Sammy would be thinking it.  Kelman exercises no censorship over the language used in this novel, and as a result it is not difficult for one to become immersed into Sammy’s world, that is, once one can understand the dialect of the Scottish working class.

The evidence of this novel as an important work of literature comes not necessarily in the story, but in the way the story is presented to the reader.  The way Kelman distorts the English language as if it was being spoken or thought, and yet is still on paper, sets this novel apart from others. If this novel were to be written in conventional English, as found in any dictionary, there would likely be no reason to read it whatsoever.  But because of the way Kelman works with this dialect, we are able to see things as we are meant to see them; through Sammy’s eyes. We are able to understand culture, and get a firmer grasp of the situation.

In simple terms, if you are looking for a good story, this novel does not offer much, but if you would like to immerse yourself into a culture and understand exactly what it is to be a character struggling through the obscure offices of society, look no further. Kelman offers just this. 

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