The Waterfords and the Oxfords are two fairly ordinary families, with one significant exception: they are the inventions of a depressed writer who now seems unable to control them: ‘I’m quite happy to rattle off their name, their shoe size, the colour of their hair, and let genius and instinct take it from there.’ Little does he suspect where this laissez-faire policy will lead him.
Colleagues Martin Oxford and Josh Waterford have the bright idea to take their families on a break together to a remote farm in Devon. As they and the bewildered narrator soon discover, the Oxfords’ idea of a gratifying leisure pursuit differs – mortifyingly – from the more staid Waterfords’. Even the children are fed up. Only the Oxfords’ excitable Labrador Brewster is really having any fun, amusing himself by harassing Sammy, the decrepit but wise farmyard cat. Meanwhile, Sammy’s owners have problems of their own. Mr Broadfield (‘"Farmer Giles" would be a bit too obvious’) is facing bankruptcy; his son wants to abandon the family business and move away - to London, of all places; even Mrs Broadfield is thinking about escaping. But as relations amongst the three families reach a crescendo of embarrassment, resentment and mutual distaste, a certain cat and dog seem to have established their own sort of peace.
Wild Oats is a brilliantly assured novel of sexual politics, social mores, and the changing countryside. A riveting, worldly and memorably original work of fiction, it is also riotously funny.