Jilly Cooper’s Riders: You actually can judge some books by their covers – so don’t meddle

Yes, the original cover showed a grope. But the book is all about groping

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The Independent Online

The male hand is so intimately positioned around the right buttock of the female posterior that, as someone pointed out, he would probably feel if she were to break wind. But then the cover of Jilly Cooper’s 1985 novel, Riders, a book universally accepted as the first true “bonkbuster”, was at least a truthful picture of what was contained within it, namely sex and showjumping.

Now, to the dismay of basically everyone bar the writer Marian Keyes, in a new edition from Transworld out today, the cover has been “updated” to suit our more “enlightened” times. The male hand has been digitally moved and now rests not daringly within the women’s bottom cheeks, but chastely on her hip. The close up has been widened into a dreary mid-shot. Even the whip she is carrying now looks like a warning signal, not an invitation to potential use.

Honestly, Riders now looks more like a book involving a scene in which a man guides a woman over a zebra crossing, not one in which he might be directing a woman into a tack room for a bit of rumpy pumpy and whipping.

Keyes, whose endorsement “Fun, sexy and unputdownable...” is on the new cover, says the rationale behind the new image is because “we have become more respectful and more responsible about women’s bodies – they are not people’s property”. 

Which is all very well and good, but a comment which completely ignores the context of Cooper’s opus, within which women do what they want with their own bodies and hang the consequences. Particularly with reference to the hot-in-the-cot leading man Rupert Campbell-Black (a character inspired, apparently, by Brigadier Andrew Parker-Bowles). 

As the novelist Victoria Hislop observes, the new cover is “bland, a bit ‘so what’ and frankly, totally unsexy. The next thing to do will be to delete the sauciness of the novel itself.” Hislop goes on to point out that trying to dispel the sexy nature of a racy book is a bit out of kilter with current trends, given that this is the era of Fifty Shades of Grey, with current worldwide sales of 125 million.

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Indeed, at a Hay Festival where novelist Deborah Moggach declared that “smug marrrieds” were death to literature and journalist Polly Vernon championed the notion of the “hot feminist”, surely this is not the time for the dessicated fingers of political correctness to go anywhere near the deliciously pert bottoms of our bonkbusters.

I sincerely hope it isn’t, not least because I have just finished writing a novel which I can only dream of being as wonderful and funny as Cooper’s but which, although not doorstoppingly long enough to be termed a “bonkbuster”,  might well count as a “saucy romp”.

Indeed, my husband, currently half way through a proof copy, has rather crossly declared it as  “totally unsuitable for anyone under 18”.

Well, yes. My children have already all declared they would rather leave the country than read my book, which is as it should be. But why is this a problem? Not all books are suitable for children. Some adults enjoy reading novels originally written with children in mind, as the huge army of grownup Harry Potter fans will attest.

But other books are specifically written for adults who might enjoy a novel which contains a bit of jeopardy, a bit of transgression, a certain racy excitement and a bit of clothing being ripped off and cast asunder within the plot’s twists and turns.

It’s fun to write and it should be fun to read, Bad Sex Awards notwithstanding. We are grown-ups, remember, and we have a choice about such things.

Given the nature of Cooper’s book, which never tries to hide its bonkbuster character and pretend that it is about anything other than consenting adults in riding clothes having sex,

I feel it really is not for the publisher, Transworld, to decide to “calm” the original, iconic cover down with some sort of prurient censorship. Yes, the original cover showed a grope. But the book is all about groping, for goodness sake. 

I am very relieved that I have not bothered Marian Keyes to give me an endorsement, since my novel is not very respectful of anyone’s bodies and does have a scene involving a kitchen table. 

I did, however, ask my friend, the journalist and playwright Jonathan Maitland, who instantly got the idea and proclaimed it “a waspish portrait of pretentious north Londoners shot through with buckets of glorious bonking”.

We shall see if this is regarded as too “disrespectful” a notion to go on the cover.

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