The Private Twilight of Jacko Tate
The blurb on the back:
On the surface, Jacko Tate is just another dapper, respectable suburban executive.
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.
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:
And here’s Bobby responding to Gifford’s query of what they’re going to have for tea one Saturday:
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?
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5
Ronald Scott Thorn, The Full Treatment