Saturday, 29 January 2011

How Late It Was, How Late

by James Kelman

This book won the Booker Prize for literature back in 1994 (I was only 3!) amidst controversy and outrage from the press, but fought back with many literary figures support of it as a work of art.

The reason, of course, is the fact that it contains an abundance of swear words. Can something that contains so much offensive language be Literature, with a capital L.
The answer is yes.

Written as a stream of consciousness, with no boundaries in the form of chapters or sections, the reader get a rare insight into the mindset of Sammy, a character dependant upon social security but with a strict sense of morality and key perspective of a bureaucratic, almost Kafka-esque nightmare of a welfare system. After taking a beating from the police after a three day bender, Sammy goes blind and now has to navigate the pitfalls and traps into which so many fall in dealing with the state.   With the loss of one sense, we rely much more on the words recorded and their possible layers of meaning, as without facial expression and body language we are confused as to the subtleties and purpose of much of the conversations.  The ambiguity over narration is also confusing as we cannot be sure of their authority and truthfulness. We only have Sammy's opinion, and don't even know whether he is to be trusted as we know nothing of his past. This battles with the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, raising questions as to whether we believe Sammy or the state? and why we do or don't believe their version of events.

It's a hard book, no easy read, but it is very interesting to discuss.  Personally I'm not comfortable with excessive swearing, but this is essential, along with the phonetic and dialect choices made by Kelman.  If this book was written in Queen's English it would not be the same book, or represent the same situation or the same character. So who cares if he swears a lot, many people do. If you don't like it then don't read it, but if you're interested in seeing (or not seeing as the case may be) a different representation of life on the breadline then this book will not disappoint.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! Keep blogging!Welcome to SheWrites. xx, isabelle