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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 21 May 2012
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..."; the language is heavily weighted to the scatalogical end of the spectrum, "F"s and "C"s all over the place, but then that's how the Sammy's of the world talk. I think the best way to approach it is pick up a copy and read the first couple of pages. If you like it, then carry on. If you don't, just put it down and leave it. I found it strangely hypnotic, with sudden flashes of beauty in amongst all the mitherings and maunderings, and so felt that I'd not wasted my time in reading it. However, I can fully understand how a body wouldn't take to it.
Like I said, give the "two page test" a go. Whatever the result, I don't think you'll regret it.
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on 20 December 2007
This book is completely brilliant. It is a tour de force; an uncompromising and relentless exploration of the psyche of a particular type of marginalised person. It may be, I suppose, that you need to have had some considerable contact with hard-man disaffected indiduals for whom the world does not, and has never, worked, to realise how good this book is. I was totally captivated by the exporation of a particluar type of psyche, where the same maladaptive thought processes occur time after time after time despite their failure to achieve anything in other than terms of a personal logic/ethic. At one time I recommended it as a student text in psychology. If you drive an Audi (or even a Volvo),are in favour of goodness and against sin, you may not like it. I found it totally compelling and unlike some other reviewers, I couldn't put it down.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2004
This book has been slandered greatly, both by friends of mine and by "professional" critics. You must ignore them all. This book is utterly beautiful. Kelman takes the mind of a man and turns it into the printed word. You can't ask for much more than that.
In a few words: Virginia Woolf being dragged through a gutter by her hair.
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on 4 March 2003
This book may appear simply to be the blind ramblings of a working-class Scottish male ex-con, but in fact it's a lot more than that. Or maybe, that's exactly what it is and that is its strength. Kelman has written a novel of working-class Scottish pride. Sammy, who, as a poor Scottish male, is typically construed as "the other" by the world - particularly the English, middle-class, novel-reading intelligentsia whom Kelman knew would read this book - refuses to capitulate to this pressure. He speaks in Scottish dialect. This all relates to one of the novel's key themes - Scotland as a colonized country - colonized by England. Michael Foucault thought that if the colonized subject speaks in his own language, that he retains a certain power. If, however, he begins to speak in the language of the colonizer, he is stripped of all power. This book is Kelman reclaiming Scotland, Scottish language and "Scottishness" from the English. Sammy simply will not speak in standard English - except, interestingly, when he is faced with authority, in the doctor's or in the DSS.
Another key theme is that of the 20th century European philosophy of existentialism. This book has evolved out of a response to writers such as Beckett and Kafka, and the idea of the alienation and the "thrownness" of life found in Sartre is prevalent here. Sammy awakes at the start of the novel, having no idea what has happened to him or really what is going on, and instantly his nightmare begins. The strangely positive and almost life-affirming quality of the book is Kelman's response to existentialism, it doesn't have to be a miserable philosophy, it can be very positive.
Despite Sammy's social position and his constant swearing, we learn that he is actually a pretty clever and sassy guy. He refers constantly to novels that he has read, even novels from Russia and Eastern Europe. Kelman's point is that it is possible to deal with such high issues and intelligent themes ALL in a rough Scottish working-class vernacular, and that Sammy - and Kelman himself - doesn't have to give in to English middle-class language in order to be intelligent. There was some controversy when Kelman won the Booker prize for this novel, but he said: "This is where I come from, this is working-class Glaswegian and it has a right to be heard." Or something like that.
This is a dark, paranoid, rambling stream-of-consciousness style novel that is somehow very positive and deals with a lot of interesting themes.
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on 11 July 2008
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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on 3 February 2000
superbly claustrophobic- reader is effortlessly transported to a world where nothing is sure apart from confusion and incessant self analysis. Takes a bit of time to get used to the language, but it adds to the make-up of the character and by the end you don't notice it. Best book I've read in a long, long time.
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on 27 December 2003
If you're looking for an action-packed plot with a satisfying conclusion, you've come to the wrong book.
If, however, you're looking for an insight into the human condition then Kelman is your man.
This is a book knee deep in grime and the mundane but which nevertheless stretches for - and reaches - heartbreaking beauty.
Stands repeated reading. Unlikely to delight your granny.
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on 20 January 2013
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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on 14 April 2015
After enjoying the novel's of Irvin Welsh a friend
recommended I read the glasgow writer James
Kelman. I chose 'How Late It Was, How Late' to
begin with.
This novel by Mr Kelman is not a comfortable
read. But non the less a fine one. The character
of Sammy has hit a rough patch in his life ( to say
the very least). After his wife leaves and he has to
get by on the dole or in Glaswegian speak here 'the
brew' his troubles have only just begun.
Sammy is a determined, funny and relatable character.
Finding himself losing his sight one day. having been
locked up in a prison cell our Sammy adapts with admirable
spirit to his new dark life.
I didn't really notice or care about the many other characters
in this original novel. Sammy's adversity is one in which I found
myself cheering him on to the final page.
My friend's recommendation to read James Kelman led me to
thoroughly enjoy other books by him. In particular the short story
collection ,'Not Not While the Giro' and the very readable
'The Busconducter Hines'.
I recommend Mr James Kelman's work if you seek original, darkly
funny and very well written books.
Thank You
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