Posts tagged ‘working class’

March 8, 2012

In The Skin Of A Lion: The Forgotten Immigrants | Zack Chester

by capreviewroom

Michael Ondaatje is an award winning author and poet.   Some of his  great works include Anil’s Ghost,  and The English Patient which was made into a motion picture.  Living in Toronto inspired Ondaatje to write In The Skin Of A Lion, a novel based on mixed elements of fiction and non-fiction, during a time period in the early 1900’s in Ontario.  He grasps your attention with colourful images of an era gone by; immigrants never making it in history.  But in the pages of his novel, they become hero’s, lovers, builders, prisoners, thieves and murderers; never boring and never forgotten. He details their dreams with streams of poetic phrases and describes their encounters with flavour and meaning; their frivolous thoughts of love, their desire for mystery and their passion for revenge. They built Toronto’s landmarks and they wanted to be recognized.

The main character, Patrick Lewis is depicted from childhood as being a curios bystander visually absorbing his surroundings on an Ontario farm.  He leaves at 21 for Toronto to pursue what he saw in his rural environment- new land.  He attaches himself to the immigrant lifestyles that come his way, and becomes one of the working class.  The characters in this novel are exquisitely described, simple people made to appear glamorous and many with hidden agendas which you may never discover.  Patrick sensationalizes his interaction with these people who built the city, and at times it is difficult to determine reality from fiction but he always has a purpose throughout the novel, be it a dreamer, a leather tanner, a lover, a prisoner and even a father.  One can empathize with Patrick as he is passionate and driven.

There are many other characters that jump in and out at different times in this book but somehow they all come together to give meaning to their presence-a thief that Patrick befriends, and adulterer that he falls in love with, and an actress that he marries.  Ondaatje does justice to the lives of these immigrant characters by giving them not only purpose but hopes, dreams and resolution.   He does an outstanding job of giving recognition to the many unnamed immigrants who contributed to the landmarks and making of Toronto.

In summary, In The Skin of A Lion reads like a fairytale with historic elements, but I found that there was no real plot.  It was a recount of the creation of a new world with glorified events and deeply intriguing characters.  This novel is a good reminder of how our lives are defined by the people in it, and their interactions and events shape our lives.

March 9, 2009

Lead by the Wrist: A Review of James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late

by nigelcrowe

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“How Late It Was, How Late”, James Kelman’s colorfully written winner of the Booker Prize is not by any means intended for the prudish. If you consider yourself a lived and open-minded individual however, Kelman’s novel is sure to please.

Set in Glasgow, Scotland, “How Late It Was, How Late” finds the reader thrust into the life and thoughts of fowl mouthed, working class Scotsman, Sammy. As a result of some hazy, booze fueled events, Sammy has found himself completely blind. To make matters worse, Sammy’s girlfriend has mysteriously disappeared, leaving him all alone to cope with the challenges of his loss of sight. The novel follows Sammy through his first week of blindness.

While Sammy’s language can be off-putting to some at first, (“…ye’re an ignorant bastard, a fucking dumpling; ye spend all these years inside but ye know fuck all about the system…”) for those who can stand the profanity there is much to be gained from the way in which the novel is written. As opposed to being written in formal literary English, Kelman opted to write “How Late It Was, How Late” in the vernacular of working-class Scotland. Although difficult to understand at first, patience will reward the reader with a detailed and accurate picture of what life is like for many others in positions similar to that of Sammy. As opposed to the watered down, plea of the proletariat to the upper-class cliché, Kelman’s novel comes closer to being an authentic peace of cultural literature.

Albeit crass, the character of Sammy proves himself to be a, sensitive, beaten down realist as the story progresses. Once again, this endearing message of humanity is a gem that only a dedicated reader will be lucky enough to receive.

“How Late It Was, How Late” asks readers to suspend their views of the world and allow themselves to be lead by the wrist into a reality unknown by those fortunate enough to be of an affluent North American heritage. This novel is truly an eye opening case of the blind, leading the blind.


Kelman, James. How Late It Was, How Late. New York: Norton, 2005.

February 18, 2009

How Late It Was, How Late

by tasha

Tasha Rennie

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.