How Late It Was, How Late…Maybe a little too late, Better Luck Next Time

by daanishali

Daanish Ali

James Kelman’s How late it Was, How late, is an award winning book about a disgruntled ex-con who can not get anything right in his pathetic life. Written in a Glaswegian working-class dialect, which could be called “gibberish”, along with no apparent structure, this novel is poised for mixed reactions. Ultimately, this work is an admirable attempt to deliver a blow to literary intellectuals that adhere only to traditional approaches. However, the question remains: how devastating a blow can he deliver?

It all begins when Sammy, the main character, wakes after a night of binge drinking to find himself in excruciating pain and in jail. Soon after he develops a mysterious condition that results in his blindness and which sets the stage for the primary conflict of the novel.

Not “bad” or “smart” enough, Sammy appears to lack the backbone to be an successful criminal. The ex-con that Kelman presents becomes more and more like ones idiot brother then any glorified Al Pacino role, and is soon surrounded by a series of ill-fated encounters that foreshadow his gloomy future.

Yet, the author is at times convincing in humanizing this consistently unreliable character. This is done primarily through a stream of consciousness approach, where the reader is given an opportunity to shadow a moron’s thought processes: “he wasnay what ye would call a thinker”. The reader quickly learns that though the result of Sammy’s action are often negative, his intentions are not always so. Consequently creating a past that continually haunts him, as he struggles to fit into societal norms.

Unfortunately, although honorable, the result of Kelman’s How late it Was, How Late is a raging headache for anyone who attempts to read this frustrating novel. This story of a misfortunate drunkard, is only readable in the same way people stop to watch a traffic accident on the highway. What pity Sammy gains from his routine panic attacks and his affinity towards music he quickly loses with his lewd conduct and agro demeanor. And although Kelman is successful in making Sammy relatable, he fails to convince the reader that his approach is effective.


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