Polo by Jilly Cooper
Before I expound a little about this doorstop, I have to complain – the PC-police have got to Jilly Cooper’s Books…
No hint of sex at all on the new cover of Polo, and the hand has moved to a much safer position on the recent 30th Anniversary reprinting of Riders (reviewed some time ago here, and here for book group!).
The new covers may be less provocative, but they don’t give a clue to what’s really under the covers any more do they?
Reading Riders a couple of years ago was a bit of a revelation for me. I been immune to the allure of sexy airport doorstop novels for all those years, Riders was originally published in 1985. However, it was chosen to combat winter blues in our book group in January 2012; that therapy worked and I revelled in it! So when my Book Bingo card threw up a ‘Sports-related’ square for me, there was only one possible choice – I hurdled Rivals, the sequel to Riders and chukked my lot in with Polo.
Effectively, Polo is more of the same! Partially set in Cooper’s county of Rutshire, there are a few familiar faces, notably the tamed cad Rupert Campbell-Black, the rich show-jumper from Riders who’s gone into politics. He puts in an increasing presence in the latter stages of the novel. But, once again, the novel’s two main characters will have a hard journey on their way to the top:
Perdita, ‘the lost one’, is an impossibly arrogant teenager who keeps getting thrown out of school and whose only true love is horses. Her mother, Daisy, has never told her who her real father might be – yes, she’s not sure. Soon her stepfather abandons them, and Daisy is left destitute. The only way to tame the headstrong Perdita is to get her working with horses …
… in the yard of Ricky France-Lynch, a polo player nicknamed El Orgulloso – the proud one. Perdita, natch, falls for Ricky, but he is still grieving over his lost son and wife. His wife Chessie, bored and beautiful, was leaving him for US polo rival Bart Alderton and wanted Will too. She goads him:
‘I’ll make a bargain with you,’ she said, swinging round. ‘I’ll come back to you the day you go to ten and win the Gold Cup.’ She ticked the conditions off with long, scarlet nails. ‘And the day England win back the Westchester.’
(Ten is the top polo handicap by the way, and the Westchester is an England vs US
grudge match competition.)
Ricky was drunk, drove off with Will and crashed the car. Will died, Ricky ended up in prison for manslaughter. Now back home and financed by Dancer Maitland, a cockney rockstar Ricky met in prison, Ricky is building up a stable and new polo team. It turns out that Perdita has a natural talent and she is coming along well, so Ricky decides to send her out to Argentina to train there at his old friend Alejandro’s ranch – which is where she meets Luke Alderton, Bart’s oldest son by his first wife. Luke, who eschews his father’s fortune wishing to be a self-made man is, of course, is perfect for Perdita but she only has eyes for Ricky. He also reads and constantly quotes poetry!
It’s not all about the sex though – by the end of Polo’s 715 pages, I’ve got a vague appreciation of the sport, which sounds extremely complicated and requires incredible skill and stamina for horses and riders to compete at the top level. Not only that, but Cooper does give us some insight into the polo pony business which is cut-throat. Not all riders are as in love with their ponies as Perdita is with hers, there are scenes of cruelty and sadness when ponies get so badly injured that the only solution is to put them out of their agony and Cooper shows us this.
Otherwise it is all about the sex and jet-setting lifestyle – there is just so much money thrown around in this book it is obscene. Flying from deepest Rutshire to Argentina to Palm Springs (home of the Aldertons), to Deauville to New York to Singapore etc., there is so much bed-hopping and purple prose. I couldn’t not give you a couple of examples:
While half his mind wrestled with the complicated finances of one of the fiercest take-overs Wall Street had ever known, his eyes ran over Chessie. She was as flushed as a peony, that pink dress emphasized every curve like a second skin. As the waiter laid a dark green napkin across her crotch, it was as though he was putting on a fig leaf. Bart wanted to take her upstairs and screw her at once.
‘Oh, that tongue,’ Daisy squirmed in ecstasy. At last the waves were slowly lapping against the shore, then they were inside her, seeping and sweeping over her. She was a mini-Pacific. She gave a gasp, moaned and floated away on a lilo of pleasure.
‘Lilo of pleasure’ – inspired or what – ha ha!?
There is a huge cast of characters, helpfully listed at the front, to keep up with, but most are peripheral to the central action. Along with Cooper’s class and money obsessions, there are also comedy accents aplenty – Argentine and Cockney, all the character stereotypes you expect (and indeed want) in a novel like this, including an ex-Argentine air-force pilot whose brother died in the Falklands War and is out for revenge. There is copious effing and blinding, especially on the polo field where verbal sledging is commonplace (and expected by the participants) too. Of course there is sex-talk all the way through and even bejazzling at one point. There are mansions, cottages, ranches and condos, private jets and helocopters all washed down with so much champagne. Thank goodness for the love shown to the dogs and horses, while everyone else is seemingly always in the wrong relationships.
Will all the pairings get sorted out by the end of the novel? Will Perdita grow up? Will Ricky come to his senses? You betcha, but it was huge fun getting there! (8/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, (affiliate link), please click below:
Polo by Jilly Cooper (1991) – new paperback edition, Corgi, 768 pages.
Riders by Jilly Cooper (1985) – 30th Anniv paperback, Corgi, 928 pages.