Friday, December 17, 2010

How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman (Jackie's Review)

How Late It Was, How Late is set in Glasgow and follows Sammy, who wakes up in the gutter after a night of heavy drinking to discover that his shoes have been stolen. He gets into a fight with some plainclothes policemen (“sodjers”) and ends up in a police cell. Badly beaten, he wakes to discover that he is blind and so begins the difficult task of learning to live without his sight whilst also trying to avoid being blamed for a crime he knows nothing about.

I started off hating this book. The stream of consciousness writing style combined with frequent swearing and the Glaswegian dialect meant that I had trouble connecting with it, but I persevered and slowly became used to the writing style. I found that if I read it in large chunks then I could immerse myself in the Glaswegian dialect and the bad language became a natural part of the conversation.

Plus ye couldnay quite predict what they were up to, the sodjers. So he was
gony have to go careful. So fuck the drink there was nay time, nay time, he had
to be compos mentis. Whatever brains he had man he had to use them. Nay
fuck-ups. The things in yer control and the things out yer control. Ye watch the
detail. Nay bolts-from-the-blue. Nayn of these flukey things ye never think
about. Total concentration.

After about 50 pages I was amazed to find that I started to like Sammy - I began to feel sorry for him and even found some of the book funny.

It wasn’t an easy read – the book flipped forwards and backwards in time and sentences were often left without an end. It took me a long time to read this book and there were several points at which I nearly gave up. Very little happens and the middle dragged. I think that if the book had been 200 pages shorter then I’d have appreciated it a lot more.

This book is packed with symbolism and I’m sure it could benefit from multiple re-reads. I’m glad I glimpsed Sammy’s life, but I’m not sure I’d want to read about him again.

Recommended to fans of literary fiction who enjoy reading about the darker areas of society.
3.5/5 stars
Originally reviewed here.


  1. Jackie, I remember reading this on your blog when you first published it. Just wanted to thank you for cross-posting here. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Great review. I'm looking forward to reading this one and I appreciate your caveats!

  3. Does pretending he is Gerard Butler help? I think if I read this I'd be speaking like that for a week after...I seem to pick up that sort of linguistic thing. Could be fun!