Introduction: The Poor Mouth

  • Mary M. McGlynn
Part of the New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature book series (NDIIAL)


“Fuck off, he couldnay drive man that was how he didnay have a fucking license: he couldnay fucking drive. He had never fucking learnt” (138). So we discover, midway through James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late, that Sammy Samuels botched his potential to escape a criminal job gone awry. The free indirect narration offers Sammy’s critique of the narrative arc of the numerous “true-life tales of woe” (136) he has heard from others who have done time; the stories are always identical in their structure and self-pity, a literary insight that leads Sammy to see himself not as victim but actively responsible for his own downfall. But Sammy misinterprets: it isn’t mainly his “stupidity” (139) that results in his prison sentence. As much as Sammy is certain individuals hold the reins of fate in their own hands, that his inability to drive is responsible for his misfortunes, Kelman emphasizes throughout the novel not just that social conditions sculpt individuals, but that preexisting narrative structures direct storylines as well. Sammy cannot drive because his economic and geographical positioning combines with his entrapment in a mode of storytelling that offers few options to him.


National Identity Cultural Capital British Isle Formal Innovation Urban Periphery 
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© Mary M. McGlynn 2008

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  • Mary M. McGlynn

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