Jilly Cooper has gone back to basics, finds Orlando Bird.
British author Jilly Cooper dreamt up Rupert Campbell-Black, her showjumping, bed- hopping poshboy, more than 30 years ago, when he boozed and copulated his way through Riders and now Mount! by Jilly Cooper has been published by Bantam.
He has been swaggering in and out of the Rutshire Chronicles ever since, as horse-charmer, wife-rustler and (for a bit) Tory minister for sport.
Over the years, Cooper has deployed her delinquent casts in other scenarios, like the TV world or the art scene, but this time she’s gone back to basics.
Mount! takes place in the same sex-and-saddlebags landscape as Riders, with Rupert centre- stage again.
So what’s new? Although Rupert is pushing 60, and isn’t showjumping anymore, those wild nights in the Eighties haven’t caught up with him – at all. The wheezing roué? The lungeing reptile? Forget it. In a novel that doesn’t shy away from repetition, Cooper emphasises doggedly that Rupert is “still Nirvana for most women”.
In the space of three pages, he is described as “impossibly handsome and arrogant”, “breathtaking” and the possessor of “arrogant beauty”, with “slicked- back blond hair” and even “a wonderful forehead”.
It would be foolish to get tangled up in summarising Mount!, which is nearly as long as The Magic Mountain and more ramshackle. But here are some scraps.
Rupert is running a stud farm and jetting off to the races in Dubai. His “angelic” wife, Taggie, is being angelic.
A nubile white Zimbabwean half his age has arrived on the scene.
His assistant, a rustic intellectual with a drink problem, is being persecuted by several farmyard harpies.
His grandson, Eddie, is radiating priapic charm (“We must sleep together soon”). A cabal of evil rivals are scheming.
Cooper knows her winning formula and that her fans won’t punish her for reusing it. Fair enough. Those who want to bask in a world where the toughest choice anyone has to make is between a Bloody Mary and champagne, or adultery and postponed adultery, will find much to enjoy.
Every racecourse is “the most lovely” or “the most beautiful”. Everyone talks in Carry On call-and-response (“Much better than Pinot Grigio.”)
But readers used to go to Cooper for something else. Riders was full of shrewd social sketching (lefties brandish their “curling copies of the New Statesmen”, oldies harrumph about “Dick Jagger”).
In Mount! there are flashes of journalistic alertness. Phones are hacked. Things go viral online. There’s a subplot to do with the growing influence of Chinese money in racing. On some level, Cooper wants to keep up.
Often, though, it doesn’t quite work, leaving us trapped between (at least) two worlds.
The kids are equipped with a late-Nineties lexicon (“Milf”, “well fit”, “dissing”) but “bop” along to their favourite tunes.
Cooper’s relationship with feminism aside (“How could she possibly be married to so glamorous a man?”), much of the ribaldry we find in this, “her raciest novel yet”, misjudges modern tastes.
The sexual assault in an old people’s home surely isn’t meant to be titillating – but is it supposed to be funny? And the casual references to “blacks” and “faggots” might have raised eyebrows even in the Cotswolds of the Eighties.
So why not just write another novel about Rupert set in 1985?
Cooper has spoken candidly about the indignities of getting older, and in Mount! we find fleeting reflections on mortality, even acknowledgements that the libido may not spring eternal. But they are subsumed by a tidal wave of froth. Nirvana isn’t always much use to novelists. – The Daily Telegraph