How Late it Was, How Late: Dangerous, or Just Crap?

by melaniewyn

Melanie Anderson

“Good literature is nothing when it is not being dangerous in some way or another…”
James Kelman
“Elitism and English Literature,
Speaking as a Writer”

Kelman’s words offer great insight into the motivation for his novel How Late it Was, How Late. In his mind, literature is worthless if it follows the status quo and does not break free from trends. Therefore, readers must be prepared to be knocked off-guard when they first open the book and find that the first paragraph, which spans thirteen lines, only has 4 periods and ends in the word “fuck.” But do not be turned off; this book turns out to be impossible to put down as Kelman’s stream-of-conscious writing brings the reader closer to a Sammy Samuels and his troubles.
Sammy has not had the best weekend. Actually, he does not know how good the weekend was because he does not remember it. But now the “sodjers” have taken him to the “poky” and he recollects that he and his girlfriend, Helen, have been in a fight. Moreover, he has now gone blind. Despite his past and potentially present involvement in crime and alcohol, Sammy becomes a relatable character who is just trying to find the right path as the reader enters his mind and sees the world from his view.
This character’s thoughts and experiences show a reader exactly what it is like to be legitimately down and out, living off of government cheques that barely last from fortnight to fortnight. Kelman’s use of raw reality is unusual and even the most elite, highly read people in London were thrown off. One of the Booker Prize judges said that the book was “total crap.”
Somehow, it still won the Booker prize and the hearts of many readers. I highly recommend reading and experiencing How Late it Was, How Late yourself to decide whether it is total crap or totally dangerous. I think you will find that the risks taken are worthwhile.

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