And I am back to singing my love for Jilly Cooper from the rooftops, well it is the holidays after all, and I promised myself one big Cooper novel every major school holiday. Of course this is a reread!
Appassionata follows the career of passionate violinist Abigail Rosen. After a dramatic suicide attempt puts a stop to her classical soloist career, Abby takes to the conductor’s rostrum, and meets the flamboyant and troublesome Rutminister Symphony Orchestra, and so another great Jilly Cooper story of loves, losses, highjinks, sexual encounters, dashing heroes and beautiful heroines begins. I love Cooper’s style of writing; it is so engaging and full of witty word play and references to poetry and classical music, that despite having read all her novels I know I will always discover something new and thoroughly enjoy the time I spent engrossed in her work. One particular description struck a chord (and having cleverly packed my copy of Appassionata this morning, I am going to have to adlib slightly. Cooper, when describing the orchestra cat, John Drummond, writes something along the lines of ‘John Drummond, having exhausted the catnip matador, had to resort to watching cat television, however with only a pigeon to gaze at, this didn’t last long. There was always so much more to see in the summer when the swallows were swooping make and forth.’ As I said this is not an accurate quote, but the description of a window as ‘cat television’ did make me smile.
Being as obsessed as I am, I always tend to read any article I come across by Jilly Cooper, and I read a particular interesting one recently that I feel is relevant to the ongoing rise of erotic fiction and the sheer craziness that has been triggered by E.L.James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. Unless you have been living under a rock, you cannot fail to have noticed that James’ books are EVERYWHERE! People who never read have become gripped in the lives of Ana Steele and Christian Grey, and I can say this in confidence seeing as my facebook feed went fifty shades of crazy about the books and my sister, who has bought a grand total of 5 books in her entire life, also began reading Fifty Shades of Grey (she quickly gave up, which says a lot in my opinion). I did devour all three books in quite quick succession earlier in the summer, and I will confess I fell a little bit in love with Christian Grey. But then I snapped out of that and got incredibly irritated by the poor, repetative writing, the dire and unbelievable heroine and the predictable plot; to be perfectly honest I think I could have written them myself, in fact most of the people who have read them would probably have done a better job.
The majority of facebook statuses I read about Fifty Shades raved about Christian Grey, and as I have admitted, I had a bit of ‘literary’ (I use that term in the loosest possible sense) crush on him. And then I read Cooper’s article. In it she pronounces that she does not understand why anyone would fancy Christian Grey; Jilly says that in her opinion, Fifty Shades protagonist Christian, a mercurial billionaire with a penchant for punishing his girlfriends, is a ‘terrible, terribly silly man, with his “long index fingers”. ‘To me he’s a joke,’ she says. ‘But then again, I’m old.’. Jilly Cooper also makes the valid point that it takes a lot of research to write one of her ‘bonkbusters’, as they are called, and you don’t have to enjoy them or think of them as literature to realise this is true. Having just finished Appassionata, it is clear that Cooper extensively researched life in an orchestra, from the day-to-day running of it to the taking part in competetions and being awarded grants from the Arts Council. I think it is fair to say that very little research went in to the Fifty Shades trilogy, well unless scouring sex shops for the latest craze counts as research.
In hindsight, I completely agree with Cooper. Christian Grey isn’t a romantic hero. He is a handsome man with an incredibly large bank balance, who is used to getting what he wants in and out of the bedroom and therefore tries to control everyone he meets. He seems to have very little personality, social life or interests, and he certainly isn’t renowned for witty conversation. When I compare him to one of the male heroes in Appassionata, it is clear that there is no comparison. Viking plays First Horn in the RSO and is passionate, caring, handsome, funny, yes he is an arrogant arse in places, but at least he has a sense of humour, something Grey appears to be lacking, and he is a well thought out, developed character. For me Cooper creates romantic heroes you can actually fall in love with, men you would want to know in real life, and not just some 2D masochistic ‘hero’ who you think you want to know, but in reality would have you running for the hills. And as a mini postscript and personal reading choice, as a woman, I would much rather read about a fiesty, intelligent, witty heroine, than a sappy, predictable one.
Give me a Cooper hero anyday!
So having once again prattled on about my bias love of Jilly Cooper, I was wondering if there are any romantic literary figures, male or female, that you couldn’t live without?