How Late it was How Late tells the story of Sammy a poor, out of work Scotsman who, after a fight with his girlfriend and a weekend of heavy drinking he ends up getting into a fight with some policemen and loses his vision. His inner thoughts are revealed as the reader follows him after his arrest and up until his decision to run away to England where he hopes to gain more control of his life. How Late it was How Late effectively invites the reader into the mind of a type of character who gets little voice. Sammy, throughout his entire life has never had any real power over his situation, “it had happened; they had fucking closed in. He was beat. They had beat him.” (75) because of his poverty he has little respect for police and authority because he sees them as a threat to himself. At the same time, he is not able to pull himself out of poverty because of his own paranoia and quick temper. He’s quick to lash out against even those attempting to assist him to try and regain his power, “That’s what happens but ye get angry for nay reason; yer heart starts pounding away and ye’re wanting to bang the bastard.” (209) How Late it was How Late also explores an uncertain type of hope. Sammy, quick to get depressed, “it was gony get worse, afore it got better,” (133) he still holds on to his optimism, “When he walked out of here the head was gony be held high, he was gony be cleanshaven man, fresh and fucking brand new, clean socks and fucking Christ almighty he was gony stick on one of these new bastard shirts. He was proud. He was fucking proud.” (324) Despite his situation with the police, his unemployment and his own blindness he still believes perhaps he can make life better by leaving Glasgow. It is likely however that this hope will come to no fruition as Sammy changes in no way, other than his sight. He remains quick to anger and paranoid. This story is a story of real life. Sometimes things don’t change. It depicts a real person and his real struggles.
How Late It Was, How Late Review
In his Booker Prize winning novel, How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman tells the story of Sammy, a working class ex- convict in Glasgow. Kelman’s stream-of-consciousness narrative begins with Sammy waking up in an alley with no recollection of the past two days. Sammy explains, “I had the wages and went straight into the boozer with a couple of mates; and one thing led to another; I woke up in the outer limits somewhere”(4). Irrationally, he picks a fight with some policemen and consequently gets beaten and thrown in jail. He wakes up completely blind. The story follows Sammy as he learns to deal with his newfound disability, while struggling with the disappearance of his girlfriend, Helen, and the challenges of welfare bureaucracy. Immersed in the working class Scottish dialect that is both uncensored and unregulated, the reader follows Sammy’s fragmented conscious through the day-to-day challenges of blindness.
Kelman’s novel is a character-driven story that is unique in the way that the reader experiences everything through the mind of someone who is without the sense of sight. The reader must rely primarily on the imagery of sound. However, the whole issue of the reliability comes into question due to the nature of the narrator. From the beginning, the reader gets the impression that Sammy is a fairly violent person with alcoholic tendencies, trust issues and problems with authority. The question of whether Sammy is trustworthy as a narrator is relevant. On the other hand, Kelman is somewhat manipulative of the reader in giving these impressions since, on further reflection, Sammy doesn’t engage in any drinking or fighting apart from the in the beginning.
Kelman’s novel is undeniably a social commentary on the challenges facing the Scottish working-class. At one point Sammy claims, “these sodjers man if ye’re no a fucking millionaire or else talk with the right voice, they don’t give a fuck”(4). The story brings to light the discrimination and threat to the Scottish identity. Additionally, it focuses on a character of little importance that is traditionally marginalised. However, Kelman also provides a commentary on the elitism of literature. Controversy surrounds How Late It Was, How Late in relation to the style in which it was written. The narration follows Sammy’s thought process in an erratic style that is full of digressions and repetition; it also moves back and forth from first person to third person narrative. There are frequent omissions in punctuation and grammar, and the dialect is full of swearing and slang. The result of this is a challenging read. However, the reward is worthwhile, and Sammy’s story pays tribute to the working class culture. Kelman truly succeeds in challenging the conventions of literature.
“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.
How late it was, How late (HL) is the compelling story of an unfortunate man within a society which is still trying to establish its self determination. Sammy Samuels is representative of a larger population of people within Scotland as well as other colonized countries, who have more or less been marginalized as a country by England (and similar colonial powers).
How Late It Was, How Late tells the story of Sammy, a criminal who wakes up after a weekend of heavy drinking with no memory of the events that have taken place. He is blinded in a struggle with some plainclothes police officers and the novel launches into the story of the next week in his life as if Sammy himself was narrating.
One of the features that sets this novel apart is the fact that it is portrayed solely as Sammy’s internal struggle. The narration, gives a very hazy version of the events taking place. This is partially to do with Sammy’s biases and opinions, and also to do with the fact that he has been blinded and cannot necessarily relay the events accurately because his perception of people has changed.