Monthly Archives: March 2013
A Novel by James Kelman
Book Review © copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
Welcome to the bleak underworld of Scotland inhabited by Sammy, a foul-mouthed, ex-con, small-time crook and down-on-his-luck-drunk who trusts no one, loves American country music and dreams of being a singing, guitar strumming pick-up driving Texas cowboy. Written in working class Glasgow dialect, author James Kelman doesn’t just describe his Scottish anti-hero in this engrossing novel, he places you completely inside of his mind. You suffer with Sammy when he wakes up, dazed, sore, and blinded after a senseless beating by the Glasgow police, who he calls “sodgers.”
Sammy is alone, terrified, and defiant as he negotiates the chaotic Dysfunctional Benefits office, attempts to cross the street with a lopped off broom-stick as a cane, gets hassled by the cops for various crimes he didn’t commit, and rebuffs the attention of a slimy, smooth talking, ambulance-chasing lawyer who thinks Sammy should sue the police. Sammy just wants to be left alone, he’s afraid to press charges for a very justified fear of more retribution.
Sammy decides to relax with a pint at a noisy neighborhood pub after an exasperating day spent trying to get public assistance; the callous social workers and doctors refuse to believe he’s blind and want him to continue in his previous occupation, construction work. Out in the close he rolled a smoke. He had decided: he was going for a fucking pint. These were victories; ye’ve got to celebrate them. Otherwise ye forget ye’ve won them. Saturday dinnertime man come on, ye didnay have to be a fucking alky to fancy a couple of beers. Alright he had been itching. So what? It wasnay a big deal. Christ if ye couldnay have a pint at Saturday dinnertime ye would be as well throwing in the towel aw the gether. Fucking life I’m talking about.
Sammy lies awake on his bunk, back in his old jail cell a week after his beating. The police have picked him up again, once more roughing him up, demanding information Sammy doesn’t have about some underworld character named Charlie, who Sammy barely knows. Another guy was in the cell with him. He made nay attempt to talk. No that Sammy minded. He wasnay in the mood for wee stories-from-the-police-courts. Fuck me but he felt auld. Too auld for this carry on. The last thing he needed was another stretch. He would nay be able to handle it. That was the truth.
Lyrics from hauntingly sad Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline songs rattle through his head as Sammy drinks endless cups of tea and struggles to survive in his new, frightening, dark world. Muttering, grumbling, stumbling, and complaining, but never giving up, he ruminates about his fate. It’s just how they suffocate ye; all their fucking protocols and procedures, all designed to stop ye breathing, to grind ye to a halt; ye’ve no to wander and ye’ve no to breathe, ye’ve no to open yer mouth. Ye’re to keep in line and don’t move a muscle; just fucking stand there till ye’re telt different.
At age 38, Sammy looks back with wry humor at his wasted life of fist-fighting, drinking, pub-crawling, the regrets of failed relationships and a teenaged son he barely knows, his eleven years in prison, the death of his unhappy father, a succession of dead-end jobs, old friends died young, and the cruel, cold, poverty of the rainy Glasgow streets. But he perseveres. It’s worse than a nightmare, cause it’s happening. It’s round ye, and ye cannay see fuck all else. Jesus Christ, so ye need yer survival plans. Ye’ve got to have them.
Author’s Note: Although this novel was originally published in 1994 and takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, I believe that those in 2013 New Orleans can relate to the story.
All excerpts from the book are in italics.
Kelman, James. 1994. How Late It Was, How Late. W.W. Norton and Company, First Edition.
Photo Credit: “Slum in Glasgow, 1871,” by Wikipedia. Public Domain Photo.
Rachel Henderson is the winner, for the second year in a row, of Finn McCool’s Short Story Contest. Her winning story is and adventure tale titled, Ice Fall. Rachel wins a keg of Guiness and some other goodies! Congrats, Rachel!
You can read her winning story on Finn McCool’s web site. You can also see the names of the second and third place winners, and the runners up, along with the titles of their stories.
Nah, I didn’t win anything. Rachel Henderson, and all the others, provided some very tough competition. The stories were judged by writers Ian McNulty and Stephen Rea.
Yeah, sure, I’m jealous. I still had fun writing my story. My story was titled, The Private Eye and the Diner Waitress, and was a bit of a humorous romp through New Orleans. I am hoping my story will be included in the venerable pub’s next short story collection.
Photo Credit: “First Prize Center-Albany, NY,” by sebastien.barre. License CC NonCommercial ShareAlike. Flickr.
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in New Orleans has released the Finn McCool’s Short Story Entries 2010-2012, in book form, edited by Stephen Rea. The book is $15.00 and went on sale at the St. Patrick’s Day Festivities. You can still purchase copies at the bar. Get yours soon, it’s a limited run and they won’t last long. (And yes, I do have a story in the collection, titled “Along for the Ride.” So I suppose you can call this some shameless promotion!)
There are also a few copies available of the Finn McCool’s Chronicles-2009, the first year the local Irish bar held its short story contest. The contest has become an annual tradition, and keeps growing every year. 2013 had 73 entires!
Sales of both books benefit St. Baldrick’s, a charity devoted to fighting childhood cancers. So stop by the pub, grab a pint of Guiness and a shot of Jameson’s, chow down on some fish and chips/Boo Koo Barbecue and buy some books. Great for gifts, train and plane rides. (You’ll spot me reading the stories on the bus and streetcar).
3701 Banks St. New Orleans, LA 70119
You can also buy a copy of this book by Stephen Rea, and get him to autograph it for you!
Finn McCool’s Football Club: The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of a Pub Soccer Team in the City of the Dead.
Photo Credit: “Finn McCool Comes to Aid the Fianna,” by Wikepedia. CC license Public Domain Photo.