How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

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How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Amy Taylor
Reviewed by Amy Taylor
Summary: Sammy is a Scottish working class ex-con who has just gone blind and his week has only just begun. A raw, in your face book about people, different perspectives and life in general.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099546276

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Sammy has just woken up outside in what looks likes a park after a heavy night of drinking. He can't remember much – how he got there, or why he is wearing some old trainers and not his new shoes. He doesn't know what's happened to his wallet or why people are staring at him. He does remember some things – one being a row of some sorts he'd had with Helen, his girlfriend. Now he has been arrested, beaten up by the police, and released back onto the street again. He needs to find a way to get home, the only problem is; he has just gone blind.

Set in Glasgow and told in the Scottish dialect this book is a breath of fresh air. There are no chapters involved, only one continuous stream of internal monologue seemingly interrupted by external conversations. It has a way of hitting you in the face, tripping you up, and making you feel a little out of control. You are not told when to put the book down or pick it up, but you get used to it and it becomes your friend. You are thrown right into Sammy's head with no introduction to him or the place where he lives, and eventually you are thrown right back out again without a conclusion. As to what will happen next – you don't know, Sammy doesn't know, but that's life. Though told in the third person, it feels more like first, as the writer only lets you into Sammy's brain and no one else's. He is a working class, ex-con, living off benefits, who likes a drink and a smoke now and again. And now he has sight loss – what more could you want?

I really liked this novel; it smelt old and mature, though new. The text is small and the story is intense. Sammy seems to take you on a journey, which exhausts both him and you. He talks about the people who have come, gone and are still around, including his son and girlfriend. You see his love for music and lyrics, and him adapting to his new way of life. He struggles getting used to the everyday things, like making a hot drink without burning himself, and then afterwards needing a break to recover. And you find yourself also needing that hot drink and a break. He has a lot of uninterrupted thoughts, and you feel like you are blind with him – unsure, paranoid, and more aware of your other senses than you'd like to be.

There is one thing I have not mentioned so far and that is the use of strong language. Sammy uses the F word quite a lot, but in a way that is naturally part of his character and speech. Some people might not feel comfortable reading such language, however, I think it is appropriate to the story and fits in well. It is not a pretty book. It is a passionate book. If you like to read about people, different perspectives, and life then you should read this. It asks questions, and then it asks some more, but it won't answer them for you. It is raw, in your face, and quietly charming.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Kelman's That Was a Shiver, and Other Stories.

Further reading suggestion: why not try reading some of the other Booker Prize winners in this series:

Possession by A S Byatt - Disgrace by J M Coetzee - The Gathering by Anne Enright - Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch - The Famished Road by Ben Okri - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Booklists.jpg How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman is in the Booker Prize Winners.

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Buy How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman at


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