Winner of the Booker Prize: “A work of marvelous vibrance and richness of character.”–New York Times Book ReviewOne Sunday morning in Glasgow, shoplifting ex-con Sammy awakens in an alley, wearing another man’s shoes and trying to remember his two-day drinking binge. He gets in a scrap with some soldiers and revives in a jail cell, badly beaten and, he slowly discovers, completely blind. And things get worse: his girlfriend disappears, the police question him for a crime they won’t name, and his stab at disability compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare bureaucracy. Told in the utterly uncensored language of the Scottish working class, this is a dark and subtly political parable of struggle and survival, rich with irony and black humor.
“Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there’s something wrong; there’s something far far wrong; ye’re no a good man, ye’re just no a good man.” From the moment Sammy wakes slumped in a park corner, stiff and sore after a two-day drunk and wearing another man’s shoes, James Kelman’s Booker Prize-winning novel How Late it Was, How Late loosens a torrent of furious stream-of-consciousness prose that never lets up. Beaten savagely by Glasgow police, the shoplifting ex-con Sammy is hauled off to jail, where he wakes to a world gone black. For the rest of the novel he stumbles around the rainy streets of Glasgow, brandishing a sawed-off mop handle and trying in vain to make sense of the nightmare his life has become. Sammy’s girlfriend disappears; the police question him for a crime they won’t name; the doctor refuses to admit that he’s blind; and his attempts to get disability compensation tangle in Kafkaesque red tape. Gritty, profane, darkly comic, and steeped in both American country music and working class Scottish vernacular, Sammy’s is a voice the reader won’t soon forget. –Mary Park
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