How Bored I Was How Bored

by serafina88

Reviewed by Joan Gauthier

James Kelman’s novel How Late it Was How Late is about the mindful ramblings of a petty criminal who ends up blind following a “doing” by the local constabulary.

It was not easy reading.

There is not much story to this novel as we follow as best we can, a series of events that evolve after our hero Sammy wakes up in an alleyway wearing someone else’s shoes and with no memory of the preceding few hours.  After antagonizing several policemen, he is marched to the nearest jail, where he suffers brutal treatment at the hands of the police.  He wakes up in a cell and realizes he is now blind.

We find ourselves in Sammy’s head never to leave it, his thoughts tumbling about, all over the place as he tries to piece together the events of the last few days and deal with the situation at hand.  It was at this point that I found myself growing tired of the Glaswegian thoughts of this particular Glaswegian.  The gritty, profane language comes at the reader at a furious pace and never let up for a moment.  After the first few pages the relentless profanity began to get tiring, and I began to wish that he would find a few more adjectives to add to his repertoire, but unfortunately, the onslaught continues to the bitter end.

Sammy tries to get his life in order, but his blindness is symbolic of his situation as well as his physical condition. He is blind to the fact that his life will not change, that he is stuck on the merry-go-round and is going to have a very difficult time getting off.   Even as he contemplates a move away at the end of the book, we instinctively know that wherever he goes, he will end up in the same situation with the same kind of people, just the city will be different

A few times I found myself sympathetic with his lot, and as he converted a broomstick into a blind-man’s cane, insisting on painting it white himself, I was able to marvel at his ingenuity.  But for me, Sammy accepts the hand that life has dealt him a little too readily and is somewhat complacent about his sudden disability.  As he tries to blindly navigate his way home after his release from the station he says:

“he was gony be fine.  Across the big junction and onto the bridge and that was him, so okay, so that’s that ye just keep fucking that’s all ye do, step by step, ye walk, step by step by step ye keep going, ye just don’t cave in man, that feeling, hanging there, but ye don’t let it cover ye ye just keep going…”

This book was not an enjoyable read and I can think more useful ways to spend a couple of hours.  A root canal springs to mind.

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