You’re not supposed to buy books for their cover, but this one I did. Or, more specifically, for that typeface. Plus, as I’ve said before, I’ve a soft spot for posh women hectoring me about how to live.
It’s rare to be a raging Sloane and popular with the masses, but women of my generation love Jilly Cooper, who comes across as so cheerful and such a laugh. Having lapped up Riders at school, I’d also bought her last novel, Jump, its sequel. I’d hoped for a rollicking read but found I couldn’t finish it. While I’d expected trashy and light, what I hadn’t anticipated was boring. I think she’s been hanging with Camilla at Highgrove too much and may have (whisper it) lost touch with her audience. As another disappointed friend put it, ‘There’s only so much I can read about horse racing before I want to tear out my eyes.’ There wasn’t even much sex, except for a weird rapey bit.
But How To Stay Married isn’t boring, even if it was clearly written in about 25 minutes. It’s a short, entertaining insight into social mores of the time, offering a peek into what life was like for young married women (upper-middle-class ones, admittedly) in 1969. Working was fine – expected, even – but still Jilly advises coming to an arrangement with your boss and working 8.30am-4.30pm, allowing you to go home and do the housework before your husband gets in. ‘No wife has the right to go to seed,’ she adds, continuing, ‘If a man is married to a real slut, who constantly keeps the house in a mess and serves up vile food, he has every right to complain.’
To be fair, she acknowledges the silliness – or rather, massive double-standards – of all this in the introduction, confessing that the only bit of text she amended was the line, ‘If a wife refuses her husband sex more than two days running then she only has herself to blame if he’s unfaithful.’ But I love that she’s resisted editing it, because it’s the details – the casual attitudes towards chain-smoking, infidelity and lashings of double cream – that reveal how much the world has changed.