Wednesday 16 March 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Clark Gable and His Plastic Duck" by Philip Tew

It’s what we all need to know, Clark Gable. Plastic duck. What on earth? So in the true story-telling tradition of show not tell, I will show. Clark Gable. Plastic Duck.

It is your task to discover their relevance. Task? That makes it sound an onerous assignment. Reading this novel is far from that. It is an undiluted pleasure. It is one of those rare reads, one that you can honestly not put down. The end of each chapter tempts you into reading the next and so on until you have forgotten what day it is and where you are.

I get added pleasure from Philip Tew's books as we taught together in Leicester, way back in 1979. I hadn’t seen him since, until we met at an Everybody’s Reading event in 2018, at De Montfort University. Pre-Covid. Weren’t they the times!

Tew writes of a time I can remember, and so many of his allusions ring true to me, as I am sure they will ring true to any Leicester resident from those Thatcherite days of the 1970s through to the 1990s.

His novel takes us into an alternate world where Thatcher lost the Falklands and Alan Clark became Prime Minister. For those who remember his philandering ways, is that a stretch too far or a parallel to a shaggy-haired oaf that we all currently endure? Thatcher is rehabilitated as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the greatest irony is when the pariah Enoch Powell becomes Home Secretary.

Where would we be today if things had turned out like that? Is that what we deserve? Considering what we have now, would it be such a bad thing? You decide as Britain descends into a world of darkness, further hypocrisy, and our hero Bill Pugh doesn’t know who to trust and who to turn to. His world as broken as the society he finds himself in.

As Phil Tew writes: “Rebellion follows. And a new privatized security service full of thugs and villains. For me, Clark’s political broadcast ties my narrative together. Suddenly, the rebellion and riots all make full sense, especially after the Falklands (Malvinas) defeat. The narrative started to reflect very different priorities.”

This novel shows without telling. Readers will not need to be told; they will see the nuances of the narrative as a challenge and an invitation into Tew’s dark world. Fantasy or Dystopia? Alternate reality or too close to truth? Who is the hero: Clark Gable or the Duck or is it Bill Pugh?

You will decide because I won’t be telling you.

About the reviewer
Jonathan Wilkins is a Creative Writing PhD Student at Aberystwyth University, Wales, reading mostly Golden Age Crime fiction. His website is here

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