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How Late It Was How Late


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A Booker prize winning tour-de-force

About the Author

James Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. His books include Not not while the giro, The Busconductor Hines, A Chancer, Greyhound for Breakfast, which won the 1987 Cheltenham Prize, and A Disaffection, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His most recent novel, How late it was, how late won the 1994 Booker Prize. James Kelman lives in Glasgow with his wife and two daughters.


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.)

"Beautiful, spirited thoughts hard up against the old brute truths...enormous artistic and social depth...James Kelman's best book yet" * Guardian *
"Forging a wholly distinctive style from the bruised cadences of demotic Glaswegian, Kelman renders the hidden depths of ordinary lives in sardonic, abrasive prose which is more revealing of feelings that could ever be uplifting a novel as one could ever hope to read" * Sunday Telegraph *
"A passionate, scintillating, brilliant song of a book" * Independent *
"Gritty, realistic and bleak, but the overall tone is strangely positive. The fast pace of the narrative, Kelman's dry humour and the indomitable spirit combine to provide a liberating read" * Big Issue *

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