Top positive review
34 people found this helpful
on 26 March 2007
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. This he does with aplomb, even though he might have been better served by telling the truth. He cannot explain how he lost his sight without mentioning the police, but he doesn't want to take on the police in a battle for compensation.
One is left in admiration for Sammy's resourcefulness as he tries to avoid seeking help from others. This adds to Sammy's complexity - that he would willingly accept the broo, but won't accept the help of an individual. But gradually, Sammy comes to see that he has to accept help and you can feel his pride ebbing into the pavement as he does.
Sammy brings misfortune on himself - and he knows this to be true - but without ever being malicious. He is just weak. His stoicism as he bears his punishments is remarkable, even though they seem to be out of all proportion to the original offence. To an extent this might be through cultivating a state of denial, but there is also a very practical attitude of dealing with the future rather than worrying about the past.
The text is very intense, and although it is possible to gallop through pages in short bursts, I found the need to escape frequently. The result is that I spent quite a while travelling along with Sammy. I feel I have grown from the experience.