Mount | Jilly Cooper | 2016, Pb 2017 | Bantam Press | 640p | Review copy | Buy the book
Rupert Campbell-Black has enjoyed so many victories – not all involving horses – but there is one prize he still desires: that his beloved horse Love Rat should be proclaimed champion stallion, Leading Sire, a title that would earn Rupert an absolute fortune in stud fees. But, quite apart from all that, it would mean that Love Rat would beat Roberto’s Revenge, the stallion owned and trained by Robert’s greatest rivals Cosmo Rannaldini and Isa Lovell, a bitter rivalry that has become the stuff of legend.
To achieve his goal, Rupert must travel the globe with Love Rat’s progeny, watching them compete in the world’s greatest races, attracting the eye of the leading horse owners, including those from China, newcomers to the sport. It’s a competitive business and it means that Rupert must leave his beloved, beautiful, angelic wife Taggie behind for long stretches of time at their estate in Penscombe, Rutshire. Luckily for Taggie, the young widow Gala arrives as carer for Rupert’s lecherous father, Old Eddie, and she is a Godsend. Even more so than she initially seemed, for Gala has a way with horses, even able to calm Titus Andronicus, Rupert’s psychopathic horse with a taste for stable hands’ fingers. When she is finally moved to work with the horses, a replacement carer is found – Jan from South Africa, a man with movie star looks and just the type of person that Rupert, the most handsome man of them all (but approaching a certain birthday) is going to trust the least.
And so we are thrown into the gloriously welcome world of Penscome, a place filled with beauty – the extended Campbell-Black family (including the American grandson Young Eddie), the horses, stable hands, dogs, sheep, and the cat. I cannot describe enough how absolutely fantastic it is to be back with Rupert again, a character I have loved perhaps more than any other through years of reading. I was thrilled to hear that the marvellous Jilly Cooper was to return to his story – there is so much more to say, and how Jilly says it!
Time might have passed by for Rupert – the racing baton passed to his grandson Eddie – but very little has changed. Rupert is as handsome and potent as he ever was and as deliciously roguish as he ever was. He loves beauty, it flocks to him. And in this novel it threatens to do its worst. Can Rupert withstand it?
Some familiar characters return and how good it is, in particular, to see lovely Taggie again. She might be ridiculously sweet (and she is genuinely sweet and impossible not to love) but, like all of the best characters here, she has a touch of naughtiness about her. Other well-loved people from the past make welcome cameos. I really liked Gav, who holds the fort for Rupert, and Gala is perfect. Everyone follows a formula but it is a totally winning one.
Then there’s the horses and other animals. How can you not love a one-eared horse who has to sleep surrounded by his six sheep friends every night? New Year’s Dave is the sweetest, most gentle young colt, while Master Quickly is so badly behaved he steals every page on which he appears. I must admit to a weakness for a horse called Touchy Filly…
There is a great story to Mount! and, although it’s quite easy to guess what is going on and who the baddies are (I think we’re supposed to stay a step ahead of Rupert, after all), it’s thoroughly enjoyable and allows Jilly Cooper to make such fantastic use of her big set pieces – particularly, racing meets and parties. Jilly Cooper is matchless at parties. Not that I think I’d want to attend one of these. I think I’d run a mile.
Deliciously scandalous with an incredible onslaught of puns, Mount! is a fabulous delight, thoroughly indulgent and luxurious read, appropriately substantial in length, perfect escapism and yet with whip-sharp wit. So many times Jilly’s writing made me snort with mirth. But above all else Mount! belongs to Rupert and his court of humans and animals, a world so removed from the problems of real life, and I am so grateful to this wonderful author for giving us such a gift. I could read these books all day long and I’ll be digging out my much-loved and tatty copies of Riders, Rivals and the others, for a joyful re-read.