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Rivals - Jilly Cooper Book Club

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JillyCooperBookClub Mon 18-Apr-16 17:19:30

Rivals sets out its stall right from the first page: Tony Bullingham, a new character, clashes horns with old favourite RCB. We know from page one that this book will be a mix of the familiar, and vastly unfamiliar.

Very few horses in this book, for a start, and two of them belong to Tabitha Campbell-Black. The new environment of local/commercial television must be foreign to most of us, but it is as apparently and superficially glamorous as the world of international show-jumping was in Riders.

We set the scene with expensive hotels, angry, driven men, and very glamorous women:

[...] the sexiest, most truculent-looking girl Tiny had ever seen. Around twenty-six, she was wearing a straight linen dress, the colour of a New York taxi, and earrings like mini satellite dishes. [...] With her straight black brows, angry, slightly protruding amber eyes, beaky nose and predatory mouth, she reminded him of a bird of prey - beautiful, intensely ferocious and tameable only by the few.

The image of Cameron as a wild bird recurs through the novel (look out for it if you haven't finished) - she may also be described in more precise physical terms, but this is the image we keep: predatory, and aggressively beautiful in a uniquely eighties way!

But she is deeply, deeply damaged, and vastly unhappy while she searches desperately for an effective father figure.

She glanced at the status symbols littered in ludicrously expensive confusion over her bed - the Charles Jourdan shoes, the Hermes scarves, the Filofax, the Rayban shades, the huge Rolex watch, the backless kingfisher blue Jasper Conran for Sunday night's presentation - what was the point of all these spiralist trappings if there was no one to share them with?

Rupert uses her for the franchise, though (perhaps inevitably) she falls immediately and hopelessly in love with him. "I don't mean to sound conceited, but i do know when a woman's absolutely mad about me." Mind you, aren't they all? The road to Penscombe is after all strewn with the lithe bodies of women (and girls) who fell for Rupert.

How we feel about Rupert's stealing Cameron's draft bid? Objectively it's indefensible, and we should be on Declan's side, but I hate Cameron and I love Rupert (I forgave him Kenya last month) so I find it very difficult to condemn him.

On the other hand, and in complete contrast, Taggie comes into view in her usual role, doing everything, and with wild, untameable dark curls bouncing round her head. She is Cameron's intellectual, physical and emotional polar opposite.

I don't think the reader can help loving Taggie, giving so much of herself against difficult circumstances and must be pretty severe dyslexia and maybe dyspraxia: "Because she couldn't tell the time, and had no sense of direction, she always ended in the wrong classroom bringing the wrong books, and because she was so tall, people automatically assumed she was older than her age, and dismissed her as even more lazy and stupid. [...] Maud never told anyone what the psychologist had said to her in the brief, bitter exchange after he'd seen Taggie, nor would she ever admit that she felt desperately guilty for not seeking help for the child's problems earlier."

What does Rupert make of her? The second time they meet, when they are first introduced: Rupert decided she really was very beautiful. It was as though someone had taken a fine black pen and drawn lines along her lashes and around the irises of those amazing silver-grey eyes. Her nose was too large, but the curve of the soft pink mouth emphasised by the very short upper lip was adorable, and he'd like to see all that lustrous black hair spilling over a pillow. She must be nearly five foot ten, he reckoned, and most of it legs, and she had the gentle, apologetic clumsiness of an Irish wolfhound, who can't help knocking off teacups with its tail.

Again we are comparing the precision and gymnastics of Cameron Cook with casual, hopeless Taggie. We are coming to understand that Jilly dislikes "done" urban women like Helen now-Gordon and Cameron, preferring rather the natural look. Of course, when Rupert and Taggie first meets, they each take the natural look a little too far:

"I've just met Rupert Campbell-Black," said Taggie.
Maud glanced up and saw Taggie was puce in the face, with her black cloudy hair standing up on end in a tangled mess, her red dress ripped and her long legs and arms scratched and bleeding and covered with white nettle stings.
"My God," said Maud, roused out of her usual languor, "I know he's got a fearful reputation, but surely you didn't let him get that far?"

When Rupert takes Cameron to the party in Madrid we get an insight into his ideal marriage on two sides.

First, he privately declares: "There are three things you need in a horse: balance, quality and courage. Same as a woman, really."

Cameron certainly has courage, but she is decidedly unbalanced, and just as gauche about possessions, which Rupert would not associate with quality.

Meanwhile, the Spanish duke with whom Cameron is seated remarks: "You can't change Rupert, only make him more secure."

Remember in Riders we were told he had never had a home to feel sick about? He's rattling around Penscombe on his own without even horses to root him. It has only ever been home with someone in it for him to love - first Billy, then Helen (until she made it too foreign), and now ...?

Meanwhile, Maud and Declan have been married for twenty years, not precisely monogamously.

"Adultery isn't the only kind of infidelity. I'm unfaithful to her each time I get locked into work. I can't help myself any more than she can. [...] She doesn't go after men for sex. She does it for excitement, flattery and the relief from the loneliness anyone who lives with a writer has to endure."

I did some Yeats at A-Level so I can't help but abhor him ever so slightly. I think it's a bit sick-making convenient that Maud shares a name with Maud Gonne, but I forgive Jilly her convenient names given how many she has to conjure!

Their relationship can only be understood by themselves; as we noted in Riders, we aren't shown what happens in a marriage bed, so theirs is the only relationship where we are not shown the gory, or perhaps slippery, details.

Beyond the Declan-Cameron-Rupert-Taggie complications, there are some cracking supporting characters in Rivals. I'm going to mention a few who never fail to make me grin:

James Vereker, whom I have in my mind as a kind of Richard Madeley type - crushingly patronising to his wife, even on air, and desperately self-centred.

Poor Lizzie is a novelist, "eating too many biscuits to keep out the cold. Life turned on the children not getting ill, and nannies not leaving so she had time to write." Is her happy ending what Jilly herself yearned for? So often Lizzie experiences scenes for us: sharing jokes with someone, or overhearing something. And she is kind - as when she realises that the execrable French menu at the Joneses was cobbled together by Taggie, and when Rupert gropes Taggie so violently she throws pudding all over Cameron.

Monica had once been head girl of her boarding school and had remained so all her life.

It's a good thing Monica doesn't visit Mumsnet's Relationships board. Staying with a serial philanderer just for a quiet life and lest one disrupt the children isn't generally recommended.

"Valerie Jones had one aim in life - to rise socially. She knew one must behave like a lady at all times, and not brawl with one's hubby in public." If you know Jilly, you read this with a sneer. And the boutique of ge-owns - how Jilly does despise arrivistes.

On the other hand we first see her husband Freddie described as "totally unpompous, instinctively courteous [...] also curiously attractive." Same family, totally different treatment, because of whether they Know Their Place. Valerie is oblivious to their scorn, but Freddie is not. He refuses a seat on the Cotswold board, declaring: "I don't like people patronising Valerie. I know you was all laughing at her. I don't mind anyone laughing at me, but no one puts 'er down."

Daysee Butler: easily the prettiest girl working at Cotswold but also the stupidest.
"Why d'you spell Daisy that ludicrous way?" snarled Cameron.
"Because it shows up more on credits," said Daysee simply.

Daysee is actually shown to be pretty good at her job pressing buttons on Declan, except when she gets overexcited and presses the cues too early.

Beattie Johnson - she is surely the inspiration for Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter! In the films Rita looks precisely how I imagine Beattie.

There are also a lot of domestic staff in Rivals. Compare with Riders where staff were mainly grooms or dailies.

The only drawback was Mr and Mrs Bodkin, shadowy, polite, running Rupert's life like clockwork, but always there in the background. Cameron wanted Rupert on her own, she was not used to servants.

Speaking of whom, Mrs Makepiece for Valerie and Lizzy whose daughter Tracey is not at all suitable for Archie! "Annexing 'treasures' was a far worse sin in Gloucestershire than stealing somebody's husband." She makes up for it by loyally defending Cotswold's record at the public and disclaiming any conflict of interest.

And of course Jilly, a dependable boot.

So much for character, what about plot?

I love the practice interviews, and the Venturer interview itself. I love the spying and sneaking around. But I love that they're all friends and neighbours and having to Chinese Wall themselves in.

Immediately, Tony dispatched Miss Madden to the IBM to transcribe Venturer's application in her best shorthand. Going through the revolving doors, she met Ursula, Declan's secretary, on a similar mission. Both agreed that much time could be saved if Ursula posted Joyce a copy of Venturer's application and Joyce sent Ursula a copy of Cotswold's. Then they could pretend they had transcribed and typed them themselves, and pop over to Harrods instead for a lunch of breaded plaice, fruit salad and several glasses of sweet sherry before going to the cinema.

The climax of the book, early this time, gives us urgency and suspense as we see if Declan will make it back for the Merry Widow. It's not as heart-rending as waiting to see if Tory was going to die, but it has us biting our lips nonetheless. Then Jilly brings us down gently through the interviews, the results, and finally to the gentleness and rightness of Patrick and Cameron, and Taggie and Rupert.

My absolute favourite thing about Rivals is the rising popularity of "luminous catsick yellow" socks. It's just so plausible!

"I'm driving into Cotchester, and I'm buying thirty pairs of socks in such a disgossting colour that none of you will ever wish to pinch them again."

BalloonSlayer Mon 18-Apr-16 18:13:41

Fab analysis, Jilly! grin

I haven't got that far into it yet, not got my teeth in so to speak.

I was just flicking through at the weekend and I saw that bit about Ursula and Miss Madden and that always makes me smile.

Trills Mon 18-Apr-16 18:53:59

I have lost my kindle. sad

I will be back either when I've found it or bought a new one.

CallMeMousie Mon 18-Apr-16 19:00:45

Ah! Here I make my most elegant arrival!

Great analysis of what is definitely my favourite Jilly book of all time. The Priory is the most vivid house to me, I feel like I can picture the rooms (and especially the kitchen) and be there right away. My absolute favourite bit has to be the NYE party, she just so totally captures the music, the clothes, the little spats and relationships, that feeling of having partied all night in a marquee and rolled into bed tired and jangled and quite possibly in love for the first time (I went to a university which had a lot of balls which helps I think!)

I've also been thinking about the comments on Rupert on the first thread and how he's a much less likeable character. I wonder if his rehabilitation is not so much about Taggie but actually seen through the eyes of Declan, who wants to dislike him, then despises him, but eventually can't help being won over by his charm and straightforwardness. If I'm honest I can't remember not loving RCB - I read the books such a long time ago I don't remember the first time I read Riders!

Look forward to some comments and ideas, I felt a bit nervous to 'dissect' Jilly when I've loved her books for years but I actually really enjoyed everyone's comments on Riders and also reliving the books (which I can't at the moment as new baby means not enough time to read!)

ChessieFL Mon 18-Apr-16 19:04:11

I have been rereading my Jilly Coopers and have just finished Score!

Rivals is one of my favourites. I like the TV setting, with the whole idea of competing for franchises (does that still happen?!). It's also got lots of characters I like - Declan, Taggie, Freddie, Lizzie.

There's one or two things that don't ring true for me - for example Cameron suddenly going all domesticated when she moves in with Rupert. There's also yet more examples of people getting married within about 5 minutes of meeting each other (seriously, how do they manage to organise the weddings in time?!).

Does anyone else wish they would make real life versions of some of the programmes mentioned?

GinIsIn Mon 18-Apr-16 19:06:37

I am going to have to dig my copy out again asap....

BalloonSlayer Mon 18-Apr-16 20:38:50

Yes I agree Chessie, Cameron is a New York ballbreaker of a single woman and suddenly she is roasting chickens and making paella! And she makes gravy from scratch. Like all New York singletons spend all their time making roast dinners (I was reading something on buzzfeed recently that suggested that Americans have a roast dinner on thanksgiving and again at Christmas and that's that and think we are very odd to have one every week).

And I was also thinking that "Four Men went to Mow" sounds like quite a nice Sunday Night programme. But of course the one I'd really like to see is "Dongs of Praise." grin

JennyOfOldstones Mon 18-Apr-16 20:57:36

Another Jilly-ism in this book is 'skin food'. I think it is hard not to like Taggie but why did she have to be 18/19? I would have been much happier for her and Rupert if she was 26.

MrsHathaway Mon 18-Apr-16 21:05:14


Taggie flunked school then spent a couple of years in a friend's professional kitchen. She can't be much older or she'd be too established professionally. She's a very old teenager though, so I concede she could be maybe 20-21 ish. She also needs to be a good lump younger than Cameron (who, mind you, is also surely absurdly young).

I thought it was obvious it was Cameron's first ever roast, handled with her characteristic arrogance?

Trills Mon 18-Apr-16 21:07:30

Pun alert!

She's ghosting my memoirs... I always believe in laying one's ghost

Trills Mon 18-Apr-16 21:09:48

I wish there were still Concordes, and that I had piles and piles of money and could catch them.

BestIsWest Mon 18-Apr-16 21:38:27

Brilliant analysis OP. This is by far my favourite of Jilly's Rutshire Chronicles.

I love the vitality of Life in The Priory

I've always thought that Lizzie Vereker is the closest Jilly ever writes to herself. She puts so much of herself into her books. For example, the paragraph where Taggie goes into Caitlin's room and finds the gramophone stuck on Wham is straight out of The Common Years when her own daughter goes way to school.

The dogs are such a massive part of this book. Badger giving Cameron Cook away, Gertude being so disapproving of Rupert.

Marmite27 Mon 18-Apr-16 21:58:30

Ah the Priory Kitchen, under everything there's something! My idea of hell.

I've not read Rivals for years, but remember chunks of it - Caitlin saying to Patrick 'pick me up (from school) in the Golf - the mini's too shaming' well it was held together with rust and dog hair!

Oh and Declan's wizard chair! Was Angels Reach in Rivals or TMWMHJ? I remember the sunset making the Angels blush smile

Oh and RCB buying Declan's wood to get him out of a tax jam - a perfect for dry ski slope hidden from th road grin

Was Beaver In Riders, then Badger in Rivals? How could RCB give Blue to Cameron grin

Plomino Mon 18-Apr-16 22:48:06

I thought Badger was in Riders,, because its Beaver that crash lands in Valerie's gladioli .

I fear my kitchen is the Priory kitchen

BestIsWest Tue 19-Apr-16 06:08:10

Yes, sorry, you're right, Beaver not Badger.

Thurlow Tue 19-Apr-16 10:29:07

I love Rivals: plot-wise, I think it is the most coherent and well planned of the Rutshire novels. Riders meanders a lot and changes its focus towards the end, and Polo has the occasional hiccup with forgetting whole characters and storylines, but Rivals is a very clear, well put together book and for that reason it works best.

I don't want to like Taggie and Rupert as much as I do, because of the age difference, because of Rupert genuinely being something of a prick, and because there's always that iffy hint of him patronising her, but... You just have to root for them. Taggie is, indeed, a love, and Jilly certainly makes you fall in love with her like Rupert does.

However, for all it is the best written of the three books and I love it much more than Riders, it is, shockingly, the one Jilly book where I don't fancy a single person. Dino in Riders yes; Ricky (Ricky!) and Luke in Polo, but no one in Rivals. That feels a little weird for a bonkbuster.

Oh, and Declan's socks grin

JennyOfOldstones Tue 19-Apr-16 19:35:41

There isn't that much bonking in it actually is there? Except Declan and Maud disappearing off all the time.

Trills Tue 19-Apr-16 21:02:08

Valerie Jones has the very white eyeballs of the non-reader and non-drinker

That, my friends, is what the younger people in my office would call a sick burn.

Trills Tue 19-Apr-16 21:40:11

I'm possibly moving house soon - do you think any neighbours will come round with bantams' eggs and champagne?

MrsHathaway Wed 20-Apr-16 12:32:00

There isn't that much bonking in it actually is there? Except Declan and Maud disappearing off all the time.

There's lots of sex. There are mercifully few sex scenes. Cameron gets her share!

Thurlow Wed 20-Apr-16 13:43:36

There's lots of sex. There are mercifully few sex scenes.

Do any of Jilly's books really have that many sex scenes in them? I think you get a lot of 'first time' sex, but then afterwards you either get a grope at the start or a post-coital embrace at the end, and that's generally it.

BeautifulMaudOHara Wed 20-Apr-16 22:48:54

I'll come back to this!

GertrudeBadger Thu 21-Apr-16 08:24:01

They're more generally rompy than having a lot of sex scenes in them, she's great at conveying people having good times which somehow makes me as a reader feel happier

Trills Thu 21-Apr-16 15:11:55

Everyone except Valerie knew that Belvoir was not pronounced as it was spelt.
Everyone except Tony was well-bred enough to keep their traps shut.

A rare instance where the subject of Jilly's disapproval is not the nouveau riche upstart, but the person looking down on them and trying to show them up.

CallMeMousie Thu 21-Apr-16 16:42:50

But Tony is horribly nouveau. Didn't has daddy make a pile in the war, and he had to marry Monica for some old money credibility? So he's not much better than Valerie in Jilly's book I expect!

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