How Late? Never too Late for a New Beginning.

by auro909

“I have the right to write from my own experiences, from my own community”.

                                                                                                          James Kelman

     The Village Voice, 7 March 1995


This is exactly what the Scottish writer does in this engaging novel where the audience is introduced to the “fucking story of Sammy’s life” (250). James Kelman employs a stream of consciousness mode of narrative together with a working class Scottish dialect to lead the reader through the fragmentary thoughts and hostile feelings of Sammy: an alcoholic, ex- prisoner and unemployed middle class men who struggles to adapt to life after waking up to realize that he is blind. By understanding the author one comprehends that through Sammy, Kelman is expressing his own view about society.


Kelman’s work is political and brings the economic and class issue to the reader’s attention. He portrays the disempowerment of a single man versus the authorities in a bureaucratic system where complex protocols and formalities hinder the protagonist’s attempt to get a dysfunctional benefit. Although Sammy is the one with a physical disability, throughout the novel one is left with the impression that after all it is the whole societal system to which Sammy is subject to that is disabled.


Throughout the novel, Sammy presents the reader with an uninviting picture of Scotland that further emphasizes the disability of the system. Sammy’s struggle represents a struggling population. We are introduced to corrupt police officers who violently caused, or not, Sammy’s sights lose. We are also introduced to the mediocre medical system that fails to examine Sammy properly and treat him accordingly. So while the case is pending, Sammy has to carry on as if he was fully operational. The country is similar to Sammy as it is failing to see and deal with the people in need while it carries on pretending it is operational.


Through Sammy, Kelman gives voice to all those people who feel ignored and powerless in a hierarchical society that is indifferent about the people’s wellbeing as long as the status quo can be maintained. Nevertheless, you will find that Sammy’s versatility allows different readers to identify with him in one way or another. His thoughts and the situations he experiences page after page such as taking the public transportation, craving a smoke, being financially in need, being lonely, insecure or confused and facing the successes of life (like making a blind stick) are all real life situations. After all, Kelman is writing about the community. By showing that Sammy did not give up on life due to his disability, Kelman shows that society should not give up on its people. Like Sammy who leaves to seek new opportunities, it is never too late for a system to listen to its people, seek the opportunities and improve.


Just like Sammy was not expecting to go blind, just like his thoughts change to songs, the fast pace and rhythm of this novel will involve and engage you in Sammy’s unpredictability and not let you put the book down. Kelman invites you to accompany Sammy in living like there are no endings but only new beginnings.

Review by: Aurora G. Torrejon


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