Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Athena K's Review - How Late It Was, How Late

Ohh boy.  This was a hard one for me.  I've never been into the stream-of-consciousness narration style, and this was that in a working class Scottish accent:
He pushed ahead. The wind felt familiar.  It was a Scottish wind.  Scottish winds fuck ye.  They do in yer ears.  Then there was the poor auld fucking flappers man yer feet, they were fucking swimming even his wrists, for some reason they were sore.  Fucking bracelets man these dirty bampot bastards, desperate; nay fucking need.
 I don't think I ever succeeded in getting past the style.

I really did try  though.  S. Samuels "Sammy" has been on a drinking binge and blacked out an entire day.  Upon stumbling awake, he is apprehended by the police, beaten, and wakes up in a prison cell several hours later blinded.  Perhaps permanently.  James Kelman sets up all sorts of mysteries: what happened in the lost day?  Where did Helen get off to?  How was Sammy really blinded?  What has Sammy been up to for money?  How will Sammy's life change because of his new disability? But don't get your hopes up - this story isn't really about any of these things.  This story is about Sammy, an idealist, a dreamer, dealing with his life in tatters and adapting to new situations.  He is an intelligent man, street smart, with a head for stories and songs.  He's incredibly stubborn - nothing gets his down for long.  But he's also an addicted smoker (who can't stop thinking about his next fix),  an alcoholic, probably a criminal, and certainly a potty-mouth. 

Added to this is perhaps my biggest pet peeve: Kelman gave me no chapter breaks.  Combined with the sentences and paragraphs that run on and don't end cleanly, picking up this book always felt disorienting and the narrative was made even more incoherent.  200 pages in I was dreading having to finish the novel.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm sure there was a lot to like in this book, and some people certainly seemed to have loved it.  The language and narration style were definitely unique, and Sammy has many redeeming qualities.  But I'm just glad I finished it.


  1. I once got a set of all the Booker winners from the 1990s for my birthday. This is one I just can't bring myself to read, because of the style. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it hard!

  2. Love your honesty Athena. This is actually one of my favourite winners but I can fully understand all of your concerns. It's great to see people putting forward an opinion that differs from the norm.