How Late It Was, How Late

( 4 )

Overview

One Sunday morning in Glasgow, shoplifting ex-con Sammy awakens in an alley, wearing another man's shoes and trying to remember his two-day drinking binge. In his hangover haze, he starts a fight with a pair of plainclothes policemen and revives in a jail cell, badly beaten and completely blind. And things get worse: his girlfriend disappears, the authorities question him for a crime they won't name, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare bureaucracy. Told ...
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Overview

One Sunday morning in Glasgow, shoplifting ex-con Sammy awakens in an alley, wearing another man's shoes and trying to remember his two-day drinking binge. In his hangover haze, he starts a fight with a pair of plainclothes policemen and revives in a jail cell, badly beaten and completely blind. And things get worse: his girlfriend disappears, the authorities question him for a crime they won't name, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare bureaucracy. Told in the utterly uncensored language of the Scottish working class, this is a dark and subtly political parable of struggle and survival, rich with irony and black humor.

Winner of the 1994 Booker Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Bausch
"How Late It Was, How Late" is a book constructed out of the vernacular speech of a time and place, exactly as, once, Chaucer's tales were. And because it is a good book it has all the authority of the so-called King's English. It is a work of marvelous vibrance and richness of character. . . . Mr. Kelman's Glasgow is vivid and powerfully alive, and his prose is, too. . . . "How Late It Was, How Late" deserves every accolade it gets. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kelman is a Scottish novelist and essayist scarcely known in the U.S., though the present book caused a stir in Britain when it won the prestigious Booker Prize (apparently as a compromise choice) and was roundly abused by one of the judges as ``inaccessible.'' It isnay that bad. Once past that artily inappropriate title, it's the harsh, gritty story of Samuels, a Glaswegian drifter and petty crook who has been in and out of jail. As the book opens, he awakens on a Sunday morning in an alley after a two-day binge of which he has little memory. He gets in a scrap with the police, and when he next comes to, he's in jail-and has lost his eyesight. The book is an overextended stream-of-consciousness in which Sammy tries to come to terms with his blindness, get some sort of medical assistance, find out where his girlfriend disappeared to and fend off the police, who believe he is close to a buddy they suspect of political terrorism. Most of Sammy's thoughts, numbingly obscene and repetitious as they are, seem authentic (though there are a few unlikely choices of words for one so determinedly unliterary). He has a combination of dour courage and suspicion that rings true, and some of the dialogue in scenes with various state authorities, cops and later his teenage son, are finely wrought, tense and darkly funny. But it seems unlikely many American readers would want to struggle with the alien idiom for these rather meager rewards. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"A work of marvelous vibrance and richness of character...It convinces, it charms, it entertains, it informs and it has life." — New York Times Book Review

"Witty, irreverent and thoroughly engrossing...Kelman is a major talent, and this is a bold, highly accomplished novel." — San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle

From Barnes & Noble
A raw, uncompromising vision of one man's struggle against the impersonal forces of the state, told in the uncensored language of the Scottish lower classes. Winner of the prestigious 1994 Booker Prize for Fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327991
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 388
  • Sales rank: 331,588
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. A Disaffection won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was short-listed for the Booker Prize, which he won in 1994 for How Late It Was, How Late.

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book:Winner of the 1994 Booker Prize, this witty, controversial, and brilliant bestselling novel has been compared to the works of Joyce, Beckett, and many other masters.

A raw, wry vision of human survival in a bureaucratic world, How Late It Was, How Late opens one Sunday morning in Glasgow, Scotland, as Sammy, an ex-convict with a penchant for shoplifting, awakens in a lane and tries to remember the two-day drinking binge that landed him there. Then, things only get worse. Sammy gets in a fight with some soldiers, lands in jail, and discovers that he is completely blind. His girlfriend disappears, the police probe him endlessly, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare system.

A masterpiece of black humor, subtle political parody, and Scottish lower-class vernacularHow Late It Was, How Late is a classic-to-be from one of today's most talented novelists.Discussion Questions: Question: Kelman's novel begins with, "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." How does the opening sentence set the stage for the action of the novel? What kind of tone and message does this sentence prescribe? Question: Kelman has chosen to use the Glaswegian dialect rather than standard English. How does this affect the reader? Does it help create a stronger Scottish atmosphere pulling the reader into Sammy's world? Does it make the reader pay more attention to the language being used? Why did Kelman make this choice? Question: What are the roles of blindness in the novel? Would Sammy's predicament and experiences be very different if he could see? Question: Many critics suggest that the language in How Late It Was, How Late is comparable to rap and hip-hop because Kelman uses the same unrelenting vulgarity even some of the same refrains ("Know what I'm sayin"). Kelman readily accepts this parallel. Discuss how his language meets this analogy and where it doesn't work. Question: How important is profanity to the text? Would the novel change if there were fewer obscenities? Question: Critics have described How Late It Was, How Late as a violent text. How can it be violent when there are no guns or knives and there is no brawling? Question: Discuss Sammy's relationship with Helen in the novel. How does his rage toward his blindness interfere with this relationship? Question: One of Kelman's great skills is taking his readers inside the complex mind of his blind character. One critic described this phenomenon by saying, "We think along with him, probing our way with a homemade white stick and a crude yet resourceful intelligence." What tools does Kelman use to produce this effect? Question: Why does Kelman create a hero like Sammy, a blind, alcoholic ex-convict, who has so many strikes against him? Question: The welfare bureaucracy in How Late It Was, How Late persecutes Sammy rather than helps him. Are there any clues in the text as to why Kelman's vision of society is so grim? Question: In his acceptance speech for the Booker Prize Kelman said, "My culture and my language have the right to exist and no one has the authority to dismiss that right." How does Kelman make his culture exist on the page? How does he ensure that it is not dismissed? Question: Why did Kelman choose to call his book How Late It Was, How Late? How does the title relate to the novel?
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Customer Reviews

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( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 1, 2013

    Jimmy learned a bad word

    Disgraceful. Kelman is like a little kid that just learned a 4-letter word. He can't wait to say it over and over and over again.
    And his little friends - the Booker judges - are all tittering at his cuteness, and how it offends.
    This book was unfinishable. After 60 pages I gave it up.
    This gives an unpleasant odor to the award, which has seen many excellent books. However, this is the second in the early 90s that was worthless.

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  • Posted October 21, 2010

    Newest addition to my top 5 books

    If you are looking for a quick, pleasant read, something to fill your evenings or an afternoon on the beach, walk away now. With this novel, Kelman offers insight into a tiny sliver of society which most readers have never experienced. Yes, the language is harsh and shocking, but the reader has been allowed see the world through Sammy's eyes, to experience his struggles and setbacks with a sound track of Scottish vernacular and American country music. Throughout the book, he maintains an positive and hopeful outlook, a childlike innocence in his complete acceptance that his struggles are direct consequences of his actions. His strength and determination as he accepts and learns to live as a blind man have made him one of my favorite characters of all time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2007

    A reviewer

    Terrible read. At first, the prose is so engaging, but then it enters into the realm of the obnoxious. And the story - am I supposed to be sympathetic toward this 'victim,' who after drinking too much and passeing out near the docks gets messed with by the cops?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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