Thursday, 11 November 2010

Polo by Jilly Cooper

Partly as a reaction to a surfeit of what I like to call ‘worthy fiction’ and partly on the strength of an article in the Graun detailing her as one of reading’s great guilty pleasures, I recently picked up a copy of Jilly Cooper’s Polo. I will confess that I had mixed expectations but Cooper when she’s at her best is a hoot, and Polo is a fun, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting read. Bit like a polo match, I suppose...

It would be futile to try and list the cast in a single blog post. Cooper stretches it out to five pages; (...Kevin Coley: A petfood billionaire and polo patron of Doggie Dins. Enid Coley: His awful wife...) and the plot meanders over another seven hundred. In short: Perdita, the spoilt but precociously talented teenage daughter of Daisy McLeod, has fallen for Ricky Francis-Lynch, the brooding but magnificent polo player with a nine goal handicap. Unfortunately, Ricky’s life has just disintegrated into disaster after his wife Chessie leaves him. The night it happens he has just won an important match and is celebrating:

After drinking at least a bottle and a half of champagne after the French Championship, Ricky tried to ring home, but the telephone was dead – probably been cut off. Suddenly, missing Chessie like hell, he decided to accept Victor Kaputnik’s offer of a lift back to the Tigers’ yard in Newbury... Victor’s helicopter seated eight, so the drinking continued on the flight, and Sukey, who didn’t drink, drove Drew and Ricky back to Rutshire, so they were able to carry on boozing, reliving every chukka.

Ricky comes back to an empty house and a note from Chessie to say that she’s left with their son, Will. Ricky finds out that the new man is his polo patron, super-rich American Bart Alderton. He sets of in his Beamer:

It was a warm night. The clouds had rolled back leaving brilliant stars and a rising moon. As Ricky couldn’t find the top of the whisky bottle, he wedged it in the side pocket, taking repeated slugs as he drove. He covered twenty miles in as many minutes, overtaking two cars at once on the narrow roads, shooting crossroads.

Chessie jokes that she’ll take him back, if he achieves a hat-trick of Herculean horsey tasks, culminating in being made a ten goal handicap, the first British polo player to rise to that level since the Second World War. Ricky snatches up their son and drives off, but tragedy strikes as his car leaves the road. Ricky is badly injured. Will is killed outright.

Ricky at least has the sense to stay off the sauce (after he gets out of prison, that is) but the rest of the cast are pie eyed for most of the novel. Daisy is perpetually topping herself up with vodka and orange, except for one dreadful Christmas with her mother-in-law when ...upstairs in her bedroom, with a bottle of Benedictine, she started frantically cocooning presents with Sellotape.

Even the horses, themselves fully drawn characters in this book, are partial to a drink:

“Can you wait somewhere else”? snapped Phil. “I’m sorry, but we’ve got a critically sick horse here.” “Sick, my eye,” thundered Miss Lodsworth, “That horse isn’t sick, it’s dead drunk. It’s just eaten all my cider apples.” There was a long pause. Crouching down, Phil sniffed Wayne’s breath. “I do believe you’re right. How many apples d’you think he ate?” “Close on a hundred.”

It all ends happily, at least for the nice people. Daisy gets a new man, and Perdita finally grows up and gets herself a suitable feller as well. On the way Cooper’s cast shift enough drink to float a battleship, indulge in some fairly fruity extra-marital sex and take part in some truly exciting polo; (her descriptions of the matches are breathtaking). It’s unashamed escapism, and all the better for it.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this usefull article, waiting for article like this again.
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