Brian Morton (review date 18 March 1994)
SOURCE: "Out of Sight," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 7, No. 294, March 18, 1994, p. 56.
[In the following, Morton offers a favorable review of How Late It Was, How Late, discussing Kelman's use of language and his focus on the dispossessed.]
If fantasy is to be something other than mere wishfulfilment, it requires a measure of resistance: either some collision with the boundaries of the actual, or else the resistance of language itself. Hubert Selby Junior's The Room offers an extreme example. A prisoner incarcerated in his own unconscious spins violent sexual fantasies in language that remains morbidly inchoate, without hope of redemption or escape.
James Kelman's new novel [How Late It Was, How Late] works fascinating variations on the same basic situation. The difference is that Sammy enjoys a measure of ambiguous freedom. He is sprung from custody in a cat-and-mouse exercise designed to get at something juicier than the mild duck-and-dive recidivism that has been Sammy's livelihood for years. The fundamental irony is that, while in the care of the "sodjers", Sammy has become blind.
One Sunday morning he wakes up, down a lane with a two-day hangover. Pulled in, he takes a routine kicking and a token spell in the lock-up before being released into a world that quite suddenly has been stripped of all familiar reference points: pubs,...
(The entire section is 535 words.)