‘How Late it Was, How Late’ by James Kelman

My Review (5 stars out of 5)

After a two-day drinking binge, Sammy appears to have forgotten where he’s been or who he’s seen and getting picked up and given a good hiding by the police doesn’t help. To make matters worse, Sammy finds he has gone blind. Released from the lockup, he makes his way home and discovers his girlfriend has gone, leaving him to fend for himself. Undeterred, Sammy soldiers on, struggling to recall his recent actions and what impact they might have on his future.

Though this book won the Booker Prize in 1994, some of the country’s literary ‘greats’ declaimed it as rubbish due to its excessive use of slang and obscene language, not least due to the fact of it being written in colloquial Glaswegian. Its stream-of-consciousness style takes a bit of getting into, though, for this reader, living in Scotland is definitely a bonus in understanding the language. It’s also worth saying that compared to the likes of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, it’s more straightforward and a lot easier to understand. With no distinct chapters, the text can feel quite dense at times, though by the time I’d reached the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down.

Set over the course of a few days, we follow Sammy as he comes to terms with his new disability, finding himself a stick and dark glasses, cooking his meals and making plans for his future. Though we never really find out what Sammy has been up to, or why he’s gone blind, his optimism at his change of circumstances is hard to ignore.

A funny, brutal and thought provoking read.

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  2 comments for “‘How Late it Was, How Late’ by James Kelman

  1. 13/03/2022 at 11:45 AM

    I’m not sure I’d manage to read a book written in a Glaswegian dialect with local slang, Colin. It does sound interesting.


    • 13/03/2022 at 3:33 PM

      Yes – there’s a lot of words and phrases that will likely be meaningless to you – and there’s no glossary! 😉


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