Another summer bonkbuster from Jilly Cooper, but I found Polo more disappointing than Riders and Rivals. This story is presented as a backdrop to the first two books Cooper wrote that centred on Rupert Campbell-Black, covering the time he was with Helen and then his relationship with Taggie. Instead of show jumping or television, we are presented with the glitzy world of polo - from the clubs in the English countryside to the heat scorched yards of Argentina to the Hollywood glamour of Palm Beach.
Our heroine this time round is spoilt brat Perdita, who shows a stunning flair for polo and has sympathetic, loving relationships with horses and dogs, but not with people. She is brought up by long suffering mother Daisy and stepfather Hamish, with whom Daisy has had two more children. Perdita's father is absent for much of the book, but his entrance is explosive.
It is extremely hard to find any liking at all for Perdita - her every action is driven by her desperate need for attention. She shouts and screams to get her own way, and is never taken in hand by anyone. She cannot see the people who are good in her life and instead seeks out those who have money and can therefore help her reach the pinnacle of polo success.
For most of her life, Perdita imagines herself in love with Ricky France-Lynch - another brooding, arrogant loner in the mould of Rupert. Ricky, however, suffers enormous tragedy early on in his polo career and so it is much easier to have sympathy for his character. He is fighting to win back his wife, Chessie, and erase the memory of son Will, and much of his bad behaviour can be attributed to this.
So, things I liked: well, Cooper has lost none of her ability to tell a rip-roaring page-turning story and I enjoy the gossipy nature of her writing style. She is able to conjure up pictures of the polo world and the three very diverse locations in which much of the story is set. Once more, her love for horses and dogs leaps from the page since the polo ponies are the real heroes and heroines of the book. I loved the characters of Luke and Daisy, and was glad to see Ricky achieve the happiness he so yearned for.
Things I didn't like can be mostly summed up by one word: Perdita. This is one of the least likeable of the characters that Cooper has written so far - so much so that you actually begrudge her redemption late in the book and feel that she hasn't suffered half enough for the pain and heartache she inflicts on others. I also disliked Chessie, and could not understand for the life of me why Ricky would be trying so hard to win her back.
One other thing that bugs me about Jilly's books is the fact that all of the most beautiful women are slender and predatory. There is usually a place for a tubby cheerful sort - here, Daisy and in previous books the likes of Lizzie - but they are not considered the beauties of the piece. I understand that the books were written when thin equalled beautiful, but it is a shame that a more healthy body image cannot be promoted.
So, all in all, a book I enjoyed but not her best work.