Have you ever been so inspired by an author’s work that you wish you could tell them exactly how much they have impacted your life? In this series, Literary Love Letters, we do just that – share open love letters to inspiring authors. Today, The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe author Jenny Oliver writes to Jilly Cooper.
When I was little I would share a room with my sister on holiday. I would lie on my bed flicking through a magazine, looking at my sunburn, trying to start conversations that went nowhere because my sister would be lying on her bed, nose in a book. Not just any book – a huge great tome with a jodhpur clad bum on the front and a riding crop. This was no Sweet Valley High or Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? It was a book that was so big I would look at it perplexed as to why anyone would want to start something that would take so long to finish.
I’d be like, ‘Come on! There’s the sea, there’s the pool, there’s barbecues and waterslides and lilos shaped like lobsters.’ But the book won out.
In defiance I refused ever to read this great big story. I read others with your name on it, like Harriet and Octavia and Emily, and I loved them, I devoured them, but my stubbornness re Riders etc prevailed. So it wasn’t actually till much later that I found myself with a copy of Polo in my hands. Even after all those years, and numerous great big books finished, I was daunted, unsure, I still had memories of this book as the evil thing that took my sister away from me on holiday. But then a page or two in and it felt like this whole other world that I had been missing opened up. What had I been doing all these years when there was Perdita, Ricky and Daisy still to meet. And Rupert? I mean…come on?
I read them completely out of order – Rivals next and then Riders (which is a great regret!) but when I read them again I’ll do it right. This trilogy, for me, went beyond being just popular fiction. While it’s a hide-yourself-away-and-escape sensation, it’s also the most brilliantly constructed and beautifully character-driven set of stories. It’s genius. And has spawned a wealth of imitators but none with quite the same heart or wit or confidence. This is reading pleasure boiled down to its very essence – it’s fun, funny, escapist, clever and has some of the best heroes and heroines of contemporary literature.
So suddenly I don’t blame my sister for abandoning me quite so much. Now I just blame her for not forcing me to read them sooner, and in order!