“If jobs needed doing then yes went ahead and done them, blind or no blind. That was one thing Sammy had learned, yer man, the bold yin. Mind you no everything that happened was gony be down to him. Some would, but no it all. Ye’re never responsible for everything; no in this world: this world man know what I’m saying, ye’re never responsible for everything. But you don’t blame no cunt neither, it’s down to you: so you just fucking push ahead, ye get fucking along with it.”
It’s all my fault. I smelt it I dealt it. I’ll fall on my sword. I did the crime; I’ll do the time, that’s the way it goes, because in the end this is the price I was born to pay. This book is a slow progression through the mind and incoherent ramblings of a hapless, drunken, invalid madman on his journey to the acceptance of responsibility for his past actions and finding his girlfriend Helen Mcgilvary in his hope for redemption. Sammy Samuels seems more likely to be in restraints or locked behind bars accompanied with deaf, dumb, or gaseous cell mates or even worse, a wannabe prison issued fortune cookie. Easy enough he finds himself back in the prison routine: he exercises until he is knackered, he eats until he’s stiff, walks the bloat away, wanks, then sleeps again. Rinse and repeat. The hardest battle he faces in jail is maintaining his routine and his composure so he doesn’t go mad or kill himself, because in the end he won’t give them what they want most.
“Fuck it. Sammy had nay regrets. Ye try to work things out. When ye go wrong; ye get yourself the gether; ye give it another go; ye hope it works out. But if it doesnay it fucking doesnay. What can ye do. Same auld fucking process. It can be damaging for the nut but that’s the fucking problem. Plus the physical side of things man the disintegrating process, ye have to face up to it, ye don’t need the fucking sodjers to give yer body a battering, ye perform the job yerself.”
A man of many moods, not necessarily destined for greatness, you are never quite sure which way Sammy’s going to go from one moment to the next. He could be drunk and disorderly where we find him at the start of the story or woefully sentimental as we see on an intermittent basis, compassionate when he realizes how he has done his girl, nostalgic when he thinks about his mom and dad, angry when he can’t get a smoke, stubborn enough to deny himself one of life’s greatest offerings if it comes from the hands of authority, sad when he thinks about his children won’t ever get to know his father and their grandfather, regretful when he thinks about his promising talent for football, or happy that he is realizing he can in fact change his life. Sounds a lot like most people’s life story, Sammy just tells it a little bit differently. Most of what is happening to Sammy, spans a few days, so to say this guy is a ball of emotions is a wee bit of an understatement. But I guess when you wake up robbed and missing your favourite shoes, get in a confrontation whereby you find yourself battered blind, broken, black and blue by plain clothes policemen, regain consciousness in jail, stumble your way home to find that your girl is gone, no cigarettes, no food, no beer, there really is no emotion that won’t be felt in this see-sawing state of mind. From Sammy’s perspective he has always been a little crazy; it’s what’s kept him from going insane.
“He couldnay be bothered moving.What he should have done was hit the boozer and got himself a wee half bottle and a couple of cans, and he could have sat here, quite happy, just listening to the music – plus working things out, it was an idea to work things out. He just couldnay be bothered. It was an effort. Life. That was how years had to keep going. What ye could control. If ye could control it, whatever ye could control. If ye couldnay control it then fucking it man what’s the fucking point, there’s nayn, ye’re as well just ye leave it, ye just leave. Know what I’m talking about, if ye cannay control it then just fucking leave it, forget about it.”
In a roundabout way How Late It Was, How Late is Sammy’s mea culpa for his mother and father, his wife Helen, his children, as well as himself for past behavioural problems. In this Glasgow-centric stream of consciousness narrative, ex-convict and drunkard Sammy allows the reader deep within his inner spaces as he takes you along on his day-to-day struggles through the city streets and various municipal institutions. It kind of reminded me of Jack Henry Abbott’s In the Belly of the Beast because of its 6×8 introspections mixed with Rupert Thompson’s The Insult due to the abrupt medical hindrances and surrounding intrigue. As inaccessible as it may have been to the general reader I found it oddly compelling and easy to grasp once you got into the flow of the narrator. For a novel that didn’t have a whole lot going on or much to say I couldn’t help but keep reading. I don’t know if it was because I was in a hurry to finish it or if the author really drew me in. This book will not be for everyone so please do your due diligence before making the leap into the abyss.
“About life Sammy, it’s a sequence of jumps and hurdles and what ye might call deep pits hidden from view. Blindness, once ye’ve got it, it’s a jump. Before ye’ve got it it’s a deep pit. But this isnay before it’s after, so it’s a jump. Sammy was about to smile but he didnay. He said, What ye needling me for?”