The narrative curve of Jacko Tate has a swift rise, as we discover the force of Tate’s presence and the grubby corruption of his character, followed by a slow and sour descent that ends with him being dragged away by the police howling like a whipped dog. What makes this book much more than a character sketch is George’s choice to tell the story through the eyes and voice of Ray Gifford, who becomes far more involved in Tate’s slow-motion crash than he should.
The two men meet when Tate is hired into the small London advertising firm where Gifford works. This is the world of print advertising that looks so antiquated when we see it on Mad Men, and it’s every bit as small change and exhausted imaginations as it seems from a distance of forty-plus years. Tate and Gifford are closer to Willy Loman than Don Draper.
Tate, an ex-Army Regular with no pretenses to public school education or manners, turns out to be a satyr of the bed-sit scene who loves to share his accounts of slipping in on wives on weekday afternoons. And Gifford proves an eager audience, ready to sin second-hand.
But the relationship quickly demands more than just listening from Gifford, as he becomes involved in Tate’s deceptions, which include a long-standing mistress for whom he develops an increasingly dangerous dependency. The situation grows more and more uncomfortable, compromising, sad, and sleazy. Tates sucks in Gifford–and the reader–into his self-destructive whirlpool.
For what appears to have been published as a throw-away bit of salacious popular fiction, The Private Twilight of Jacko Tate is a remarkably well-structured and precisely-observed work. And as Alwyn Turner, the creator of Trash Fiction notes in his review, it’s also rich in mid-60s British atmosphere. Eugene George appears to have published just one other book, I Can See You But You Can’t See Me, which came out the year before Tate. Its description in one review–“Emerson, a rich and successful man, sets out systematically and viciously to destroy a marriage”–makes it sound worth seeking out as well.