Plot or Person?

by rachelmoxham

How Late It Was, How Late, written by James Kelman, is somehow able to move both very quickly and yet very slowly. Within the first seven pages Sammy, the protagonist, wakes up in an alley after a night of binge drinking, picks a fight with the police and winds up in jail. This is just the beginning of his misfortunes. All taking place in the duration of a week, he goes blind while in jail, is released without any aid, and makes his way home only to discover his girlfriend has left. He attempts to gain compensation, but fails, and is soon after recaptured by the police in his own home, taken back to prison where he is then accused of a crime of which he knows nothing. He is again released, visits a doctor whom accuses him of lying about his blindness, is tracked down by a rep who claims he wants to help, and finally Sammy takes off to restart his life in England.
Although Sammy appears to have a very fast paced life, these events unfold over 374 pages, and on each page the reader is exposed to practically every thought Sammy has along the way, even those as mundane as hunger, thirst, or boredom.
This insight into Sammy’s decisions and action can create one of two possible reactions from the reader. She may become frustrated and discouraged by the lack of plot development occurring at the rate to which the average reader is accustomed, or she may find herself relating to and sympathizing with Sammy as he works through his struggles. The latter effect encourages the reader to continue reader, and is precisely the result for which Kelman was aiming.
This genre of exposing all thoughts of the protagonist, called Stream of Consciousness, although not commonly used, shifts from the more common focus of plot development to character development. Perhaps because this genre is not commonly used, it does not always achieve the reaction from the reader that is desired and can make the read feel slow. On the other hand, if a reader begins Kelman’s novel with this knowledge, she may alter her expectations, and therefore find this piece of literature more enjoyable.

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