If you ask my Mum she will tell what a pony mad child I was in Primary School. I never ran. I galloped. In fact I had a gloriously happy walk the other day with young Sophie where we galloped (with the occasional trot) down to feed the horses in the field at the end of my road so it seems this is something I have not yet grown out of. My reading habits are another place where, sometimes, my development seems to be somewhat arrested. I’m still a fan of children’s books, Alice is still my all-time favourite and I still have a weakness for the kind of books I read in my teens and early twenties. I still enjoy the odd romance novel, will regularly re-read my Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L Sayers and I was stupidly excited to see that an old favourite, Jilly Cooper, had a new book out this week. I started with Jilly reading Octavia, Imogen et al – short novels about girls falling in love with unsuitable men and, eventually, marrying them – and then moved on to what the 80s liked to call ‘bonk-busters’ – Riders, Rivals, Polo and so on…And this new novel is a continuation of the Rutshire Chronicles so I was looking forward to lots of rumpy-pumpy, lovely countryside, dogs and horses and, of course, lashings of Rupert Campbell-Black.
Mount is set, like Jump, in the world of horse-racing and breeding (so the horses, as well as the humans, get plenty of romantic action). It has everything you would expect from Jilly Cooper – animals, bed-hopping, intrigue, champagne, wonderful food and oodles of sex – with lots of added glamour from the world of international flat racing. It is all wonderfully unreal as well since these races can earn their winners up to $10,000,000 as well as the punters betting tens of thousands of pound on a race. Reality, of a sort, comes from the relationships which are never simple – unless, of course, you count animals. The dogs are all wonderful, loyal in a way that the humans rarely are, the horses all have their own personalities and there is a supporting cast of cats, goats and sheep too.
The basic plot is that Rupert Campbell-Black, in trying to gain the title of Leading Sire (the term for the stallion whose offspring earn the most money) is even more neglectful than usual of his lovely wife, Taggie, and the rest of his tempestuous family. He focusses far more on Love Rat’s progeny and his ongoing rivalry with the dastardly Cosmo Rannaldini than on Taggie, his own children and grandchildren or his increasingly senile father – interestingly, and a little drop of reality in this glorious fantasy life, it seems that this new obsession comes about after the death of Rupert’s closest friend Billy Lloyd-Foxe (who we first met way back in Riders). As always the general tone of the book is as frothy as vintage Bollinger, full of awful puns and the odd orgy but Jilly is never afraid to make us aware of the tougher things in life – with Old Eddie’s developing Alzheimer’s, Taggie’s dyslexia, Gav’s erectile dysfunction as well as Rupert’s grief adding their own sadness. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the little political comments through the book – I don’t think Jilly and I would ever see eye-to-eye on hunting, for example – I am totally with her on the horrors of the live transport of horses for meat…
All in all this is an enjoyable romp. I’d expect no less from an author who has been delighting us with enjoyable romps since the 1970s (and who had part of her schooling in Ilkley despite being, like me, an Essex girl.)