I’ve loved Jilly Cooper’s books since I was a teenager. Emily, her very first novel, started life as a serial called Circles that she wrote for 19 magazine. She later completely rewrote it, and like every other reader I was hooked from the memorable first line – “If Nina hadn’t bugged me, I’d never have gone to Annie Richmond’s party.” And if that hadn’t happened, as you’ll no doubt remember, heroine Emily would never have met the wild, irresistible artist Rory Balniel and been whisked off to his ancestral home on a windswept Scottish island.
Jilly Cooper has written a multitude of bestsellers since and the great news is that her sparkling new novel is just out in paperback. Jump! is set in the glamorous world of jump racing and like Riders, Polo and Wicked before, it features all the favourite Cooper hallmarks – witty one-liners, a massive cast of characters (the devastating Rupert Campbell-Black makes a welcome return), gorgeous countryside and lots of steamy sex.
This time round, Cooper’s heroine is sweet-natured Etta Bancroft, a widow in her sixties who’s spent her life waiting hand and foot on her domineering philanderer husband. When he dies, her dreadful children force her to move into a “blot on the landscape” bungalow near them. They not only expect her to work as an unpaid nanny for their tricky offspring but purloin her precious paintings, ban her from having pets and tick her off for drinking with locals at the village pub.
But Etta is not to be crushed. One night, on the way back from babysitting duties, she stumbles across a mutilated filly in the snow and lovingly nurses her back to life. Christened Mrs Wilkinson, the tiny creature turns out to be a well-bred racehorse and, cheered on by the rest of the village, embarks on a dazzling racing career. Heroic, brave and devoted to Etta, the filly becomes, as one race-goer puts it, “the People’s Pony.”
The plot rattles along at break-neck speed and while I had to keep my wits about me to remember exactly who’s who (luckily there’s a helpful cast list at the front ), Jump! is impossible to put down.
Cooper meticulously researched the tough world of jump racing and her sheer love of the sport shines through. There are lots of human villains in the book but the horses are noble to a fault – fiercely loyal creatures who race their hearts out for their owners, jockeys and grooms. Jump! is hugely entertaining, touching and funny. I loved it so much that I’ve now gone and bought the audiobook too.
Jump! by Jilly Cooper is published by Corgi at £7.99.