to women. “He groped secretaries and grabbed cleaning staff… She [the Palace sommelier] told him she didn’t think she liked being grabbed between the legs. Yeah you do, he said.”
Fracassus is a Nero for our times. Monstrous. Larger than life. Jacobson captures him with some excellent turns of phrase. “‘He has, Your Highness,’ the physician reported, ‘what I’d call Tourette’s, only without the Tourette’s.’”
How could such a person get elected as ruler? How could the people not see through the bullying tweets and misogyny? This brings us to the most interesting part of the novel. “Without,” his mother says, “meaning to imply that the people are deficient in understanding…” Of course, Jacobson is only too happy to imply just this.
Trump is a leader for our times, the product of a vulgar, ill-educated society. The Prologue is called The March of Ignorance. The epigraph is from Swift.
Another ruler tells Fracassus, that the people “love a fraudster. If someone who wants the best for the people lets them down, they will never forgive him. But a joker who wants the worst for them they will follow into hell…”
As the book reaches its climax, Professor Probrius looks on in dismay: “I did long ago predict that those who tell the stories run the world.”
“What stories,” asks Dr. Cobalt. “He doesn’t have anything to tell.”
“My love, that is the story.”
And that is the moral of Howard Jacobson’s dark tale.
David Herman is the JC’s chief fiction reviewer
IChutzpah & Chutzpah: Saatchi & Saatchi, the Insiders’ Stories by Richard Myers, Simon Goode and Nick Darke (Michael O’Mara, £20), offers a vivid reminder of the golden age of British advertising, when the power of an idea — and the originality of its expression — could literally transform a client’s business, with nary an algorithm in sight.
When did three or four words have a greater effect than “Labour Isn’t Working”; British Airways’ iconic slogan, “The World’s Favourite Airline”; or the Independent’s “It is. Are you?” Until the arrival of Charles and Maurice, no advertising agency had made a greater impact on the consciousness of the general public than Saatchi & Saatchi (where I worked from 1978 to 1990).
In fact, as this beautifully produced book (to which I did not contribute) recounts, so far had the fame of the agency spread that, in one year alone, 15 graduate trainee positions were applied for by 4,000 people.
In some cases, 45 years old or more, these first-hand accounts of those who worked at Saatchi & Saatchi (not including me) may have been polished a little in the re-telling, a fact acknowledged by the authors, but I can vouch, not only for the veracity of many of these stories, but for the brilliance and tenacity of those who lived and breathed the agency’s culture of “Nothing is Impossible”.
Lacking a little cohesion in structure, Chutzpah & Chutzpah can read rather like a series of anecdotes haphazardly strung together, but the stories themselves are so compelling and recalled here with such verve and humour, that it would be the perfect dip-in-and-out book, were it not such a compulsive read. .
In the end, the agency’s extraordinary success — and, I suppose, the eventual hubristic implosion of its original incarnation — comes down to Charles and Maurice’s unique talents (and chutzpah), the intelligence and dynamism of its staff, and the sheer brilliance of its creative work.
As the book points out, World problems. World Solutions. World Class was actually a line written by Saatchis for ICI, but it could easily apply to the agency and its work. The world of advertising and marketing communications will never see its like again. PETER SUCHET