How Late it was, How Late, by James Kelman

I just read this novel for the second time and enjoyed it a lot. The first Kelman book I read was A Dissafection, back when I was on my year abroad in Odessa in 1995. Upon my return I got How Late it Was, How Late and liked it a little better.

The novel is written in the Glasgow dialect, which is very close to the Ayrshire dialect that I grew up with. It’s partly the poetry of that language that really appeals to me. Having studied linguistics and socio-linguistics probably makes the book more appealing to me than it might to others, as well as the fact that I do not have any trouble with comprehension (as when I read A Clockwork Orange because I speak Russian – not sure if that spoiled that for me but that’s another story for another time).

The story is a slice of life, social realism in great form. It doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle and end, rather it portrays the events that surround the main character, the bold Sammy, over a period of a few days. He gets into a scrape with the sodjers (the police) early on and winds up blind. We then follow his journey through the police cells, the benefits offices, medical assessors and such like.

I would certainly class this novel as literature rather than throwaway. I’m not sure how enjoyable it would be for anyone that struggled with the dialect but I’d be interested to know.