Wednesday 6 January 2010

Riders - Jilly Cooper

Well, this is certainly no Pride and Prejudice! Riders is Cooper's debut book; a naughty romp through the elite world of show-jumping from local shows to the very top of the sport - the World Championships and the Olympics. Our main characters are Jake Lovell, a Gypsy underdog, and the first showing of Rupert Campbell-Black (who will appear in future books by Jilly Cooper), the good-looking rogue of the horsy set who jumps in and out of beds with no thought to the consequences.

There are masses of other characters that people the pages of this huge tome. Despite this, they are characterised simply and well, with distinctive traits and values. Unfortunately, it is hard to be sure who to root for! In the beginning we are firmly behind Jake - his tough start in the sport, his sympathetic treatment of horses, and his courageous win of the World Championship in the face of almost-impossible odds ensure that we feel certain he is the hero of the piece. We cheer when he finds Macauley, a horse that Rupert mistreats, and then uses this horse to beat Rupert in the Championship. We adore his family of Tory and Fen and his two adorable children. However, key events in the book lead us to firmly throw our weight behind Rupert - despite all his many, many faults. We find the behaviour of Jake and Helen - Rupert's wife - abominable.

My least favourite character is definitely Helen. I dislike her mismanagement of Rupert, her neurosis, her brittle perfection, her inability to stand up for herself. I think she is weak and end up believing she deserves everything she gets! I love Billy - he is one of the few characters who, despite flaws, is consistently a person to have sympathy for.

The book is long and rambling and could do with a little more structure, although Cooper's research is excellently done. It follows a now tried and tested formula of taking a gossipy approach to relationships and sex, but we should remember that Jilly was one of the first to tread this path. Riders was a genuinely naughty book when it was first released, with swear words and steamy sex scenes that are now included in books as a matter of course.

Certainly Jilly Cooper's writing is not to all tastes - her books are often considered lowbrow trash, only suitable for holiday reading. I, however, adore her books. I love the doorstop bulk of them, where you can really become invested in the characters and the story. I especially enjoy the fact that the horses and dogs are as big characters as the people themselves - in this book Sailor, Macauley, Revenge, Desdemona, Badger include some of those animals who simply leap from the page.

Altogether I would recommend this book to horse lovers who have no issues with a naughty slant; readers of "chick lit" and people who want a slyly funny and very good-natured read. Extremely enjoyable.

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