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The Private Twilight of Jacko Tate

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Pan, London, 1969 (price: 5/-; 208 pages)

dedication: For my daughter Leigh

The blurb on the back:

On the surface, Jacko Tate is just another dapper, respectable suburban executive.
Only his friends Gifford recognizes the sick, implacable hatred that burns in him – the secret imbalance which leads him to a terrifying persecution of his mistress, Tess.
Tate’s smile, his bravado and his uncanny success with women make him an amusing companion – sometimes. But like a flawed machine, he grows more erratic, more violent, more dangerous…
Again Eugene George shows that he is ‘certainly a novelist with his finger on the pulse of our society’ (Birmingham Post). His new book is about people that are real - uncomfortably real. It has the grip of a thriller, the sting of truth.

opening lines:
When he came walking into Gifford’s shabby little room at Pritchard-Humphries that first spring day there was nothing about him to show that he was not as other people are.

This is a very fine novel, I think you’ll like this one. The story is told from the perspective of Ray Gifford, a decent, normal sort of chap with a successful career in advertising, a nice house in suburbia and a wife pregnant with their first child. He also has an older friend, Jacko Tate, a married man who keeps a mistress and is possessed of a dangerously violent streak. Inevitably Jacko’s behaviour takes a downward turn, and Gifford finds himself torn between the orthodoxies of his marriage and loyalty to his friend.

Let me start by making it clear that above all else this is a great slow-burning thriller. But there’s more going on as well, undercurrents and overtones that make it a particularly rich experience. Jacko, for example, despite his psychopathic tendencies, is a character with real depth: a former war-hero, having been decorated during the rearguard action at Dunkirk, he also burns with class-hatred, profoundly disliking on sight ‘anyone from a public school, anyone with a degree, a bowler or a double-barrelled name.’ (p.90) How does such a person fit into the modern world? Does a man who’s been trained to kill still have a role? And is he symptomatic of a newly aggressive, upwardly mobile working class, or of a nation in the grip of an identity crisis?

Gifford too is a more interesting figure than at first he appears. Superficially he’s the epitome of satisfied suburbia, the neutral observer confronted with the brutal force of nature that is Jacko Tate. But in contrast to Tate’s predatory sexuality, Gifford’s own relationship with his wife, Bobby, is more subtly disturbing.

She was the living embodiment of the nice, uncomplicated girl-next-door. A creature, Gifford knew, who did not, could not, exist in the 60s. (p.68)

The one sex scene that we witness is between the Giffords in which they play a game called Big Dolly – she must remain motionless and mute while he undresses and seduces her. In its own way, it’s as creepy as anything that the more vicious Tate embarks upon.

Minor themes include Gifford’s relationship with his secretary (a sketchy but resonant presence), Tate’s loveless marriage and the need to reproduce in order to belong properly to society. All of it beautifully observed, with genuine insight into the human condition.

And, for those of us who love our period detail, this is swarming with the stuff. Here’s a group of bikers in 1966 gathering around a café:

The jarring snarl of motor-cycle had reached an unbearable pitch… There were now close to forty machines between the apex of the green and the brightly lit café on the far side of the road going west. Perhaps half were swarming restlessly from group to group, like mindless insect life. A handful of trousered, teenage girls watched from the safety of the café door, their shrill laughter dredging unbelievably through the roar.’ (p.70)

And here’s Bobby responding to Gifford’s query of what they’re going to have for tea one Saturday:

Bobby changed her expression slightly to one of Oriental humility and shuffled round him coolie-fashion to the refrigerator. Reading from the shelves, she said: 'We have kippers, ham, eggs, bacon, frozen hamburgers, frozen beef-burgers, haddock fillets, three kinds of soup, baked beans or' - she broke off to shuffle across to the larder - 'or spam, three more kinds of soup in packets, sardines, anchovies, savoury chicken mince, tinned chicken, tinned ham, tinned crab, fish paste, meat paste, meat loaf, Chow Mien, sweet corn, tongue, crumpets, chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits, Jaffa cakes, assorted biscuits, one, two, no - three kinds of tinned fruit, two sorts of cream, two different kinds of bread, two blends of coffee bean and two kinds of tea. So why not let's have the haddock fillets with poached eggs, wholemeal toast, chocolate cake and tea?' (pp.148-9)

Excellent stuff. But I shouldn’t let it get in the way of what a rattling good piece of story-telling this is. Should be filmed, I reckon.

Eugene George is unknown to me. The British Library catalogue has only one other book listed, the earlier I Can See You But You Can’t See Me (1966). Anyone know more about him?


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