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How Late It Was How Late Paperback – 6 Mar 1995

3.9 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (6 Mar. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0433393971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0433393979
  • ASIN: 0749398833
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Amazon Review

"Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there's something wrong; there's something far far wrong; ye're no a good man, ye're just no a good man." From the moment Sammy wakes slumped in a park corner, stiff and sore after a two-day drinking binge and wearing another man's shoes, James Kelman's Booker Prize-winning novel How Late it Was, How Late loosens a torrent of furious stream-of-consciousness prose that never lets up. Beaten savagely by Glasgow police, the shoplifting ex-con Sammy is hauled off to jail, where he wakes to a world gone black. For the rest of the novel he stumbles around the rainy streets of Glasgow, brandishing a sawed-off mop handle and trying in vain to make sense of the nightmare his life has become. Sammy's girlfriend disappears; the police question him for a crime they won't name; the doctor refuses to admit that he's blind; and his attempts to get disability compensation founder in Kafkaesque red tape. Gritty, profane, darkly comic and steeped in both American country music and working-class Scottish vernacular, Sammy's is a voice the reader won't soon forget. --Mary Park


"Beautiful, spirited thoughts hard up against the old brute truths...enormous artistic and social depth...James Kelman's best book yet" (Guardian)

"Forging a wholly distinctive style from the bruised cadences of demotic Glaswegian, Kelman renders the hidden depths of ordinary lives in sardonic, abrasive prose which is more revealing of feelings that could ever be expected...as uplifting a novel as one could ever hope to read" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A passionate, scintillating, brilliant song of a book" (Independent)

"Gritty, realistic and bleak, but the overall tone is strangely positive. The fast pace of the narrative, Kelman's dry humour and the indomitable spirit combine to provide a liberating read" (Big Issue)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Mar. 2007
Format: Paperback
I have previously read two Kelmans - You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, and A Disaffection. From these two, I understood Kelman to be a master of the interior monologue of mundane/seedy characters. In YHTBC, it was a Scots alcoholoc in the USA, looking to return home. In Disaffection, it was a pretty hopeless teacher failing to hit it off with a pretty work colleague. I thought YHTBC was a masterpiece, but A Disaffection left me rather cold. The thing is, with these monologues, that you have to actually care about the character and his life - there's no plot or action worth speaking of, just a question of how the chaarcter got to the present situation and how they feel about it. The action is at best incidental.

In How Late It Was, How Late, the central character, Sammy (Mr Samuels) is a natural victim. He is afraid of authority and is hopelessly fatalistic. He wakes up after a bender, in the street, wearing rubbish trainers instead of his good shoes. He sees some policemen and picks a fight with them. He is arrested, beaten up and loses his sight. The monologue then sets out to explore how he came to be in that situation - apparently he is an ex-prisoner who has had a big row with his girlfriend; he also has an ex-wife and son; he has a reasonable set of friends; and a benefit dependency.

HLIWHL also explores how Sammy reacts to his sight loss. He initially curses his luck, but is fatalistically accepting, as he tries to find his way home from the police station. He has to decide how to become mobile and to feed himself. He is worried about losing his benefits (no longer available for work) so he sets off to the Broo. Sammy's natural instinct when dealing with authority is either to say nothing or to lie.
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Format: Hardcover
People seem to either like or hate this book, and it's not surprising to see why. It is 374 (in my Minerva edition paperback) pages of a single unending stream of consciousness, unleavened by chapters or other relieving mechanisms.
Sammy (short for his surname Samuels - we never do find out what his proper first name is, though I wonder privately if this Jewish-sounding name has any correspondence with the Jewish protagonist, Leonard Bloom, of Joyce's Ulysses) is a 38 year-old, failed criminal, alcoholic Glaswegian who, getting into a fight with two policemen after one too many benders, loses both his liberty and his sight - though he is let loose after a couple of days in the jug he is blind, whether permanently or not we never find out. Thereafter we follow Sammy's fractured, memory-impaired train of thought as he tries both to adjust to life without sight, and to make sense of what has happened to him in the time between going on his last bender and getting home to his girlfriend's flat.
Much of the flak "How late..." has received has been to do with the fact that it's written in demotic Glaswegian, as if narrated by Rab C. Nesbitt (in fact, despite my best efforts, I could only visualise Sammy as Gregor Fisher's addled tragicomic creation, rather than the angular, Jimmy Boyle-type thug that I earnestly tried to fix in my mind's eye). But I think that, if you can watch a film with subtitles or go to a live Shakespeare play, you should be able to cope with it - you just adjust to the cadence of the language, much as you do if you read anything by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (and HE hasn't received any flak that I know of, I'm glad to say, because he's a tremendous writer).
I'm not sure of the literary merits of "How late...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Story is told as a stream of consciousness, narrated by Sammy, a Glaswegian small-town crook who wakes up one morning blind after a particularly heavy drinking session and beating from the 'polis' or 'sodjers', as Sammy refers to them. The style of writing is beautifully fluent, you're reading Sammy' s thoughts at the same pace that he's thinking them, which made reading this novel gripping. You learn about aspects of Sammy' s life and a great deal about his personality traits as the narrative progresses. In many ways, Sammy is an unattractive character, but there's an honesty about him that creates empathy in the reader and makes you wish that things turn out well for him. He takes the on-set of his blindness in generally good humour and the way that his thoughts flow and meander have a real feeling of authenticity about them. Brutal and grim but also hilarious and heart-warming. I enjoyed this book immensely.
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Format: Paperback
I literally stumbled upon this book whilst roaming around the huge Borders bookshop in Glasgow. I found myself in the Scottish literature section and "How late was, how late" had fallen on the floor causing me to trip over it. Taking this as a cosmic sign I bought the book and scurried back to work. What a find it was.

The book is written as a continuous train of thought from the main character Sammy (the bold Sammy) who wakes up from a weekend long bender to find himself in a police cell worse for wear. What really makes this book interesting is the writing style which flows of the page. The language may be a problem for some as it is written in the Glasgow vernacular although the author avoids becoming too incomprehensible to anyone outside the central belt. All in a all a great read and possibly would be a regular on the top 100 lists if it was not for the use of Glaswegian slang in the writing which may put some off. If there is one criticism, and the reason for four rather than five stars, is that it does lag a little at times part way through the second half. Otherwise though add it too your Amazon basket today!
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