I love Jilly Cooper

The first Jilly Cooper book I read was Riders. I was twelve. That’s a bit worrying, really. I found it at an aunt’s house whilst we were visiting and I spent the whole week we were visiting reading in the bedroom, shoving it under the pillow and picking up Jill’s Gymkhana whenever I heard footsteps.

I think I skimmed over the pervy bits, really – all I remember is the breathless excitement as Rupert Campbell-Black won a medal and feeling sorry for poor Tory when her dog was killed. My real love affair was with Rivals, which is still my favourite of Jilly’s books. Gorgeous Declan O’Hara and his love of W.B. Yeats (oh, the romance when I went to university in Northern Ireland and studied Anglo-Irish Literature). Feckless Maud, with her fox-red hair, who took forever to unpack because she kept reading bits of the newspaper as she unwrapped the crockery. There are a tremendous number of Jilly characters with hair the colour of drenched fox – Maud, Helen, Georgie and her rival Julia, and naughty viola playing Flora, who has an affaire (much more exciting than a common or garden affair) with the evil Rannaldini. I never quite got the whole Rannaldini thing – is there anyone out there who thought ‘phwoar’? Maybe I’m missing something.

Jilly Cooper 1970s

That’s Jilly in the 70s – I always suspected that Janey Lloyd-Foxe, the unprincipled journalist with a ‘mane of tawny hair’ was Jilly’s naughty side, and this photo looks just how I’ve always imagined Janey.

Ooh, and then there’s Caitlin’s love affair with Archie Baddingham (yes, I did name my first son after a Jilly Cooper character, and in fact my daughter was very nearly Tabitha after Rupert’s daughter). Cameron Cook in her suede dress, slit at the sides and reeking (Jilly’s characters always reek) of Fracas, the naughty-girl perfume. Gorgeous Patrick O’Hara. Oh, swoon. This is all a bit inarticulate, isn’t it? Hermione cantering naked around the indoor school with Rannaldini cracking a lunge whip and Lysander noting that she’s on the wrong leg (those pony stories again). It is utterly, gloriously bonkers and completely impossible to put into words. What’s wonderful about Jilly’s writing is that she does all that, but her observations of nature and descriptions of animals are so tender and accurate. If you’ve ever read her collection of diaries, The Common Years, which is probably one of my favourites (and yet isn’t in my comfort reading post, because I am forgetful and fickle and have millions of favourites) you can see that the diaries she kept have informed her writing. It’s a beautiful book.

jilly cooper - the common years

Another of the Rutshire Chronicles, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, has heavenly Lysander, and Boris and his love of red wine, red meat and red-blooded women, and the amazing ability of Jilly’s heroines to lose a stone in a week through pining (never happens to me, grumble grumble). Detective Inspector Gablecross – the only policeman in Rutshire. Smooth James Benson, the private GP who arrives whenever required. But the best bit of all? Lovely, cloudy-haired (I suspect she could do with with some Frizz Ease serum) Taggie falling in love with Roopurt Cambel-Blak, and Rupert trying to resist her because he’s too old and bad and horrible for her. If you haven’t read Rivals, you must – The New Year’s Eve party is heaven, too. Nobody throws a party like a Jilly Cooper character.

(If you’re a Jilly lover, have a look at this. I guarantee you’ll giggle. I think Jilly would, too, if she read it.)


  1. I also love Jilly Cooper I have just finished Jump! I have been reading them since I was a teenager. I haven’t read the common years I will have to find that one. Somewhere I have all the smaller books she has written like Imogen and Prudence.

    My idea of bliss, it a Jilly Cooper hardback, a cup of tea, some good music in the back ground, snuggles under a quilt all by myself. That happens very rarely!

  2. What a lovely post. A little rambling and feverish, but just perfect for expressing your love of Jilly. ๐Ÿ˜€

    The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous was the first one I read, and I’ve since gone back and read most of the earlier ones too. My favourite, though, is one you haven’t mentioned: Pandora. Fine art, intrigue and a hint of incest – who could ask for more?!

  3. How sad am I. I started wearing Amarige because Abby Rosen in Appasionata does. Know exactly what you mean!!

  4. I used to treat myself to a Jilly after exams at uni. All that reading up on Russian Foreign Policy or Political Theory meant I needed some light relief. I think my all time favourite is Polo – although I seem to be a voice in the wilderness on that one!
    Always made me snigger when characters exclaim “Oh Kerrist!”

  5. I really enjoyed this post, I have read some Jilly Cooper books but so long ago that they have all blended into one in my memory – isn’t that awful. I did laugh about you hiding ‘Riders’ when you were 12, at about that age I read ‘Lace’ by Shirley Conran and did exactly the same if anyone walked in the room. I guess we’re all the same!

  6. Dear me, I have never heard of Jilly Cooper, but am running right out to the bookstore. Thanks so much for writing about one of your favorite comfort reads – Anne RIvers Siddons is that for me. I especially appreciate you pointing out your favorites, so my picking a first is easier. And, as a writer myself, I love author diaries.
    Great post,
    Helen Ellis

  7. I adore Jilly.

    Little bit of Jilly related trivia:

    There was a rumour that RCB was based on someone I know well. When I spoke to Jilly on the phone – she wrote and asked me to call her about my writing a few years back – she finished the call by saying:

    ‘Do send my love to dear, dear Rupert.’

    (Rupert is not his name, but I thought that was an interesting slip of the tongue!)

  8. My first Jilly Cooper book was Imogen, which I swiped from my mother as a girl and still love now. Oh my. I especially love it when the horrible Cable is revealed to have a rather more unglamorous real name and flounces off to be a leopard skin bedecked slave girl in an arty soft porn film.

    I naturally have wet fox hair under the pink dye so always felt an affinity with her characters but I also always rather suspected that in Cooper World, having red hair was indicative of inbreeding. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Haha, as someone with a child named after not one but two Heyer characters, I probably ought to applaud your restraint.

  9. My friend and I would sneak peeks at her parents’ copies of Scruples and Princess Daisy (Judith Krantz). Unlike you, we didn’t skip over the pervy bits — we sought them out and skipped over all the rest. Eventually, the books would just fall open to the steamiest bits.

  10. Hello! I LOVE Jilly. My favourite though is one she wrote
    called How to stay married: a users guide to wedlock. I love it because it’s so old fashioned but she’s still quite modern in her attitude (as you’d expect from a journalist with a mane of tawny hair). The girls’ names ones were favourites too: Octavia, Harriet etc. Brilliant escapism!

  11. oh and by the way your button is so pretty I’ve put it on my blog.

  12. Thanks so much for the mumsnet link. Made me laugh out loud. Green concealer! How well I remember that. Imoge, Bella & Co were my introduction to Jilly Cooper – I think I am older than you. We passed them around at school and, as Linda says, the pages opened magically at all the sex scenes.

  13. Hmm typing whilst drinking .. that should be Imogen not Imoge…

  14. Ooh, typing whilst drinking is one of my favourite hobbies. Mind you it gets me into terrible trouble on Twitter. Haha.

    Our hand-around book at school was Forever, by Judy Blume. It fell open to the pages about Ralph.

  15. Ooh, thank you! We share the same web design goddess! x

  16. I love all the name books, too. Octavia is my favourite!

  17. I remember that with Lace – I suspect I wasn’t much older than 12. Eek.

  18. Hahahahaha. I forgot your Heyer namings. That’s comforting! xx

  19. Ooh, now that’s a bit of fab gossip! I think it’s lovely that she was so encouraging to you – I can’t imagine anything nicer than a boost from Jilly. Swoon.

  20. Oh yes, Jilly is fab. So many layers – not just funny and rude, but she’s fab on the subject of Class, too. In fact her book Class is really funny, too.

  21. Ha – I think Jilly would be amused to hear about us all reading her books under the pillow!

  22. I like Polo too – Ricky and Daisy are so lovely.
    My copy of The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous was a present from my best friend at uni after exams. He died of horror buying it. Hahaha!

  23. I do wish they’d make Jilly a Dame for being fab. She deserves it.

  24. Rambling and feverish! I loved that so much. And yes, I loved Pandora too – just thought I’d better not ramble on too long or everyone might fall asleep. I have a sneaking fondness for Score, which everyone else seemed to dislike.

  25. Yes, my idea of bliss is pretty much the same!