Mount by Jilly Cooper (first published in 2016 by Bantam Press)
I’m an unashamed Jilly Cooper fan and I have been reading her, literally, for decades. Jilly Cooper started her career as a journalist and romance writer (both which echo delightfully in her later work) before bursting onto the scene with her first, (once again literally) racy long form novel called Riders.
Riders was the first in a series of books, set in the glitzy world of 80s show-jumping. A string of equally decadent novels followed, trailing an ever-changing cast through the glamorous milieus of polo, television, art and opera, exploring the affairs (and extramarital ones) of the British upper classes.
The heroes are impossibly sexy, the villains unbelievably bad and the damsels almost unbearably sweet… And yet, the books have been undeniably enjoyable.
Mount, draws the attention back to horses, and her original protagonist, Rupert Campbell-Black. Campbell-Black first appeared in Riders as the incredibly beautiful, horribly posh, remarkably talented and 100% incorrigible hero that captured imaginations across the world.
While it was fun to check in with the old crowd again – Rupert, Taggie, Janey, Seb, Dom, Helen, Tabitha et al, they often seemed a bit one dimensional – used more like props than cast – the new set of characters were rather dull and contrived.
Protagonist Gala, was widowed in Zimbabwe by the evil Chinese mafia, and misses a home where zebras came to drink from her pool and where she had a whole fleet of staff looking after her household like some colonialist wet dream.
Jan van Deventer (yes, you read right) is a South African nurse from PE who speaks with a strong accent, is very manly and hairy and tells Gala that it’s so very difficult living in Cape Town because of farm murders and “the blacks”. (Not verbatim quotes.)
Soon intrigue abounds and infidelity threatens to rear its ugly head as Rupert finds himself increasingly attracted to Gala while Taggie can’t help but be charmed by the openly gay Jan from PE.
I have to admit, I raced through the first half of the book. Few manage to convey the pastoral idyll of the Cotswolds like Cooper does. Every season brings a new delight. And there’s no one like Cooper to make competitive horse racing seem interesting, even to the greatest ignoramus. On top of this she has an uncanny ability to make even dieting seem glamorous.
But as the book progressed I grew less and less enchanted.
When I finished it (in a huff, I admit) I went back and reread Riders in an attempt to see where Cooper went wrong with Mount. Was it the lack of motivation for the characters’ actions? The sentimental mooning over horrendously anthropomorphised equine and canine characters? Is it the sex scenes that manage to be depraved and ridiculous in equal measures? Or the terrible lines?
(Quick aside: In one dismal paragraph Rupert tells Gala she has spanner eyes. Because every time she looks at him his nuts tighten. I kid you not.)
I realised it’s not so much that Cooper has changed, but that audiences had. Campbell Black would not have been a hero if the books came out today. He’s a one-dimensional, vapid, jealous, childish, cruel, abusive, misogynistic racist whose only gifts are beauty and wit.
And while these might be enough to make you a hero in the British upper classes, modern audiences need more.
I’m not saying Mount has nothing to offer. It is easy to read, sometimes suspenseful and regularly quite funny, but it would have been much more enjoyable and rewarding if the characters were properly fleshed out and motivated by actual, believable, human emotions.
Keen on reading this book? Buy your copy now.