How Late It Was, How Late: It Tastes Awful. And It Works

by martazem

Marta Zemojtel
English 213

“I mean that was something about Sammy, yer man, know what I’m saying, a lot of cunts would have done their box. But he hadnay. He had survived it…..The nightmare was over. So how come he still couldnay see fuck all?”

            It is through the use of such raw language, uninhibited grammar and erratic thought processes that Kelman throws decency, politeness, conventional literary style and spell-check out the window. The reader is left with the exposed struggle of a flawed yet charming character whose personal, cultural and socio-economic problems are only magnified by his half-hearted attempts to alleviate them.

            Kelman wastes no time in introducing Sammy; a middle-aged, unemployed resident of Glasgow who is “edging back into awareness” as he finds himself in an unfamiliar backstreet “leaning against auld rusty palings.” As thoughts of the past weekend “smother” him, Sammy reveals that he has spent the past few days drinking heavily, following a fight with his girlfriend. The reader witnesses Sammy’s troubled nature first hand as he aggravates and punches a police officer and is consequently put in jail by the “clever bastards.” Sammy awakes in the jail cell to find himself bruised and “fucking dying.” When he wakes for the second time however, he realizes that “it was his eyes that was the main fucking problem like he had gone blind but the black had stopped him appreciating the fact.”

            From this point on, the novel continues to evolve into a narrative maze which chronicles Sammy’s ordeals and realizations during the first few days without his sight. The stubborn character’s biggest challenge proves to be adjusting to his blindness. Yet despite Sammy’s vulgar outbursts and the cruel fate that meets him, his careless character proves to be his greatest coping mechanism. “It was laughable, no knowing. There were all these things ye think ye’ve committed to memory but have ye!…” remarks Sammy with a type of carefree, humorous approach that becomes one of the very few things that a reader could possible envy about his situation. Further encounters with both the police and the bureaucracy surrounding the Department of Social Services challenge the reader to question whether Sammy’s realities unfold because “they aye find ways to fuck ye, it doesnay matter who ye are” or if in fact, they are simply the character’s personal biases.

            Rather than conforming to the comfortable and familiar structure of clearly defined chapters, the novel forces the reader to navigate through an uninterrupted stream of seemingly mundane occurrences veiled in an often difficult Glaswegian vernacular. Yet this risk proves to be a successful instrument in conveying the theme in an ‘as is’ manner. Kelman abandons the overused third person narrative in order to create a natural, everyday atmosphere through which the plight of the character is all the more apparent. Though far from epic, the almost banal ending of the novel, combined with Sammy’s “just keep going” mentality somehow manages to stir up feelings of admiration, if not for the character, then for the innovative manner in which Kelman conveys the common person’s plight.

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