Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1994 Booker Prize Winner

How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman


Publisher: Secker & Warburg

Length: 384 pages

About: A drunken Glaswegian's rambling thoughts

Style: 3rd person

Where: Scotland (Glasgow)

When: 1994


Publisher’s synopsis:

A raw, wry vision of human survival in a bureaucratic world, How Late It Was, How Late opens one Sunday morning in Glasgow, Scotland, as Sammy, an ex-convict with a penchant for shoplifting, awakens in a lane and tries to remember the two-day drinking binge that landed him there. Then, things only get worse. Sammy gets in a fight with some soldiers, lands in jail, and discovers that he is completely blind. His girlfriend disappears, the police probe him endlessly, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare system.



Back in the house he hung the key-ring on the hook and gave the cutting edge a lick of soap afore starting. He should have tapped the guy for a fag while he was at it. Ye could tell from his voice he was a smoker. Okay; Sammy spat in the palms of his hands and gave them a rub. Fine, right; he prepared a dining chair and laid newspapers underneath it. Then he went eeny meeny miney mo and stuck on a cassette: And then he was off and running:


After three four years of marriage, it's the first time you havent made the bed And the reason we're not talking


Fucking hell man what a fucking song to pick! Stupit bullshit pish--showing how traumatic a time a guy's having whose missis has just walked out and left him--obviously the cunt's never done a hand's turn in his life but it never dawns on him that might have something to do with it. Mind you it never seems to dawn on the cunt that wrote the song either. It was Helen drew his attention to that, how ye could tell from the way the auld George Jones boy sang the words that he wasnay being funny nor fuck all, nay irony intended.




How late it was, how late is celebration and indictment in equal parts, a passionate, scintillating, brilliant song of a book.

The Independent., Janette Turner Hospital, 2nd April 1994


Not so good:

When the Scottish writer James Kelman won the Booker Prize in 1994 for his expletive-filled How Late it Was, How Late one of the judges, Julia Neuberger, called the decision a "disgrace" adding that "I am implacably opposed to the book". She is sometimes quoted as having chosen her words with slightly less care. When the prize was awarded she stormed out, saying, allegedly, "Frankly, it's crap"

Sameer Rahim, The Daily Telegraph, 25th January 2012


About the author

James Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946. His early fiction includes the short-story collections An Old Pub Near the Angel (1973) and Not Not While the Giro (1983), and the novel The Busconductor Hines (1984). His novel A Disaffection (1989) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 1989. He is the author of a television screenplay, The Return (1991), and has written plays for radio and theatre. He is currently attached to Goldsmiths College, London, and the University of Glasgow. James Kelman lives in Glasgow.


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Age guide: 18



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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

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