Published: 1986
Author: Jilly Cooper


Bonkers and brilliant

So far this year I’ve been very good at reading books from my ever-growing to-be-read pile. I’ve discovered new authors that I want to read more from and for the most part really enjoyed the new books that I’ve read. But sometimes you just want to read something that you know, love and feel happy when it’s in your hands. I call that ‘comfort reading’ and one of my favourite comfort reading novels is Riders by the queen of the British bonkbuster, Jilly Cooper.

Before Riders Jilly Cooper was best known for her journalism and short romantic novels. Riders the first of her longer books and starts the Rutshire Chronicles which feature many of the same characters and settings – Rutshire being a fictional English county where the inhabitants can’t help but behave badly. Like much of Cooper’s work Riders is set in a glamourous, upper-class world which most of us could only aspire to be part of (or not as the case may be).

While there are a number of strands to Riders it is essentially the story of two showjumpers – the romantic, passionate, poor Gypsy Jake Lovell and the handsome, vicious, cruel and very rich Rupert Campbell-Black. The book follows their lives and bitter rivalry across a decade of competition, marriages and affairs culminating in a dramatic finale at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The first thing to say about Riders (and all of the Rutshire Chronicles) is that it is bonkers, totally and utterly bonkers. The characters are all massive caricatures and the events so over-the-top that they are completely unbelievable. That’s part of the fun though, Cooper has her tongue firmly in her cheek throughout and you get the impression that she had just as much fun writing the book as you are reading it. There are glorious puns and put-downs and lots of implausible situations.

The characters are practically out of a pantomime. Rupert Campbell-Black is the hissable baddie, his friend Billy Lloyd-Foxe is surely the perfect Buttons and anti-heroine Fenella Maxwell is Cinderella gone bad developing from a spotty teenager who spends all her time in the stables to a fully developed sex-pot travelling the world with the British show-jumping team. The book is stuffed full of memorable and fun characters, some of whom will feature regularly throughout Cooper’s work.

In this book, as well as later Cooper novels, the human characters are almost usurped by the starring animals. Sailor the horse adored by Jake, Badger the dog that Rupert prefers to his wife and son and Mavis canine companion to the adorable Billy all feature strongly. I get the feeling that Jilly Cooper prefers animals to humans, they certainly get a fairer crack of the whip (pun not intended) than people and this continues throughout the Rutshire books.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read Riders over the years, it must be into double-figures at least and on this latest pass I ruefully told my husband that I had finally killed the copy I own. The first 50 or so pages are falling out and will soon be lost.

Riders isn’t actually my favourite Cooper book – instead I prefer the follow-up Rivals which sees Rupert Campbell-Black soften slightly. If you’ve never read any of Jilly Cooper’s work and are looking for some mindless escapism this is the perfect place to start – bonkers but ever so slightly brilliant.

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  1. Oh, I so agree with you, both about what a super read Riders is and how Rivals is even better.

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