The trappings of fame and success may tempt some writers to come in from the cold but JAMES KELMAN remains disaffected as ever. Sue Wilson talked to him about his latest novel which chronicles a couple of weeks in the battered, bruised and newly blind life of ex-con Sammy Samuels.
ames Kelman may be widely acclaimed as foremost among the many contemporary Scottish writers who have established a UK-wide reputation. but this has not diminished his contempt for the literary establishment that has conferred such stature upon him. Most authors, he argues. who
8 The List 25 March—7 April 1994
receive academic or media approval. continue to present as universal a set of values and priorities that are in fact specific to white. English middle-class men. In his view. the
fulsome reception — including a Booker shortlist place — afforded his last novel. A Disaffection. was due in large part to the fact that critics could identify more easily with its university-educated protagonist and its literary references than they could with the plebeian leads and milieux of earlier books like The Buscmzductor Hines and A Chaucer. If he’s right, it should be interesting to watch the response to his new novel. in which the voices and setting are emphatically not the stuff from which literature is conventionally made.
How Late It Was, How Late opens with 38- year-old unemployed ex-con Sammy Samuels waking up in a lane one Sunday morning after a two-day bender. most of which he can’t remember. He picks himself up. dusts himself down. then for no good reason other than sheer
badness picks a light with a group of policemen and gets lifted. The boys in blue having extracted their revenge. he wakes up next time. or the time after that. battered. bruised — and blind. He’s questioned. then released. and the rest of the novel takes us with him through the next week or so. as he slowly negotiates the practicalities of his new situation — first of all getting himself home. skint and on his own. groping and stumbling along the road back to his girlfriend‘s flat where he lives. She seems to have disappeared - he vaguely remembers a row before the weekend — and he‘s no one else to turn to for help; having only recently returned from England. he's largely lost touch with his family and former pals. And so it’s all down to him: getting to and from the shops. the DSS, the doctor’s. trying to get his story straight. cashing his giro. feeding himself. getting lifted again and questioned about something that seems to have happened during his lost weekend. getting
through an awful lot of solitary hours. HS