“The boys laughed and whispered to me that they were called the Lounge Cats, or something like that, and that they were quite famous. I replied that so was I.” (193)
The taxi driver known as Jack the Hat is undoubtedly a local celebrity in Exeter and its surrounding areas, and had been since long before the publication of this book. This quasi-mythical figure was made known to me before my first year had even started, when a fourth-year friend encouraged me to save the number of his taxi service in my phone. She told me a story of how Jack had helped her friend recover a misplaced credit card, and, in the following months, I heard more and more tales of Jack’s unprecedented kindness and heroism.
Jack is comprised of a series of short episodes, each one detailing the conversations and events that occur in the space of a single taxi journey. Just as the departing passengers in a taxi are swiftly replaced by new ones, so the characters in Jack appear and disappear, leaving behind them only a hint of a personality, a life, and a story of their own. This mixture of different people, places, aims, and intentions, is perhaps the element that makes this novel so immensely enjoyable, as, together, they fashion a strikingly apt snapshot of the community of Exeter. Students are ferried from their accommodations to Timepiece, to Batty Bingo, to the Safer Sex and Enchanted Garden Balls, and to their graduation ceremonies; while local residents are taken to the airport and other nearby towns. The novel rightfully details the students’ drunken antics at times, yet there is also a recognition of students as intellectual beings with opinions and knowledge of their own. Furthermore, the addition of passengers from outside the student community serves to make us aware of the people with incredible lives who exist outside of the bubble in which us students often find ourselves caught inside.
“If anything ever went seriously wrong in the wider world, if a catastrophe occurred that threatened our routines, if we were knocked off the monorail of our everyday existence, most of us would panic and succumb to the threat, whether it was implied or real. Most of us would opt for the food rather than freedom.” (136)
Within the ever-shifting landscape of the taxi, a vehicle filled with different people every few paragraphs, the point of stability and familiarity is the voice of Jack the Hat. We hear his judgements on all his passengers, wonder at his goodwill and patience, and become well-acquainted with the man behind the stories that circulate so widely. Moreover, as Jack imparts his wisdom to his passengers, I feel like the reader – the additional, voiceless passenger – will also find something that resonates with them, an idea or thought that will stay with them for life.
Overall, each character in Jack’s taxi is a portrait so artfully sketched that it seems as if they are a living, breathing person – and, what’s more, a person that could very easily live next door, or in any of the student houses in the city. Like Prospero in The Tempest, Jack the Hat is the central figure who wields a near-magical power to orchestrate the series of lifts in his taxi, and to overcome a multitude of barriers and obstacles that would deter any ordinary person. His novel is exciting and unique: even for people who use taxis frequently, the taxi driver is always a mute, faceless figure – until now. Written in a clear style, and with a calm, charming voice, this is a novel that will undoubtedly appeal to both residents in Exeter and those who live elsewhere.