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Reading ‘Mount!’ in Hargeisa

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Hargeisa traffic.

A photo posted by Jessica Gregson (@clotidian) on Sep 26, 2016 at 5:25am PDT

The book: Mount!, by Jilly Cooper

The place: Hargeisa, Somaliland

*

The first Jilly Cooper book I ever read was Polo, back when I was 13 or 14, on trip with my parents: I’d run out of my own books, my mum had just read Polo, I was entranced by the rather saucy cover, and my (wonderfully permissive) mother lent it to me. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that it was a revelation, but I did almost immediately go back and read Riders and Rivals, the two books preceding Polo in the series; when I was 15 and went on a three-month student exchange to Germany, way before the age of the Kindle, I very, very carefully selected the three books that would give me the best bang for my buck in terms of page-count and emotional pay-off, and Rivals was one of the three. (The other two, if I remember correctly, were Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and Robert Harris’s Fatherland, which is a rather disconcerting glimpse into the heart and soul of 15-year-old Jess.)

All of which is to say that I have been a devoted Jilly Cooper fan for about twenty-five years now; I have read the entirety of The Rutshire Chronicles (though, oddly, none of her other books), and so Mount! was one of my most hotly anticipated books of 2016. (The other, Tana French’s The Trespasser, came out at almost exactly the same time, and they were both magically delivered to my Kindle on the same day: Jess of 1991 would be astounded at the extent to which the future has conformed to her most heartfelt wishes.) I’m about halfway through it now, and it is exactly what I hoped it to be: lots of lavishly-described shagging, a multitude of terrible/brilliant puns, and a cast of charmingly vile and ridiculously glamorous characters, some old and some new. I don’t know how I would feel about Jilly Cooper’s writing if I were coming to it fresh as an adult, and there are certain aspects of it that I just have to put firmly out of my mind (the wall-to-wall Toryism and mockery of the left; the rampant lack of political correctness; the fact that the delectable and irresistible Rupert Campbell-Black is modelled on someone who looks like this) but as a long-time fan, it has all the comfort value of a warm bath or clean sheets or some similarly domestic metaphor.

And actually one of the nicest things about Jilly Cooper’s writing is something that I haven’t really thought about before, perhaps because I didn’t need it so much: it makes the UK, and particularly England, seem rather appealing. Not from a social perspective, of course – quite the opposite – but the way that Cooper lovingly describes the English landscape has gone some way to thawing my frozen and Brexhausted heart. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alienated from and despairing about my country as I have over the past few months, and I have found myself asking myself why I choose to live somewhere so antithetical to my values – the fact that I live in Scotland does help, but I am still English by background, and so it’s nice to be reminded, by way of Jilly Cooper’s rhapsodic paeans to the English countryside, why I chose to move back in the first place, twenty years ago.

Hard to imagine a landscape more different than where I am now, though it did at least rain yesterday…

I bless the rains down in Africaaaaaaa

A photo posted by Jessica Gregson (@clotidian) on Sep 25, 2016 at 5:42am PDT

 

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Written by Jess

September 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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