James Kelman Critical Essays

Introduction

James Kelman How Late It Was, How Late

Award: Booker Prize for Fiction

Born in 1946, Kelman is a Scottish novelist, short story writer, essayist, and dramatist.

For further information on Kelman's life and works, see CLC, Volume 58.

How Late It Was, How Late (1994) concerns an unemployed, working-class Glaswegian named Sammy, an exconvict who runs into trouble with the law while on a drunken binge. After being arrested and beaten by police, Sammy wakes up in a jail cell to discover that he is blind and unable to account for all the events that occurred between the onset of his binge and regaining consciousness. Described as both Kafkaesque and Joycean, the novel employs stream-of-consciousness and third-person narrative techniques, relating Sammy's passive attempts to deal with his blindness and his ruminations about his life and Scottish society. Although the work does not overtly concern itself with political themes, the relationship between the Scottish government and its working-class constituents as well as the relationship between Scotland and England are central to Sammy's observations. While praised for his psychological portrait of a working-class Scotsman and his focus on oppression, Kelman has been both lauded and castigated for his use of obscenity and dialogue in the novel. Noting that Kelman's excessive use of vulgarity and sexual references occasionally results in "a piling up of inarticulacies," Adam Mars-Jones has nevertheless asserted that "Glasgow speech and the attitudes it embodies are holy to this writer. To describe the local tongue as the language of resistance would be to understate [Kelman's] view of it; it is a language of truth in revelation."