Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 306 pages, 2004

Rating: 6/10

Reason for Reading: I enjoyed Fielding’s sense of humour in the Bridget Jones books.

Synopsis: Olivia Joules is a bottom-of-the-barrel journalist who is often accused of relying more on her wild imagination than on actual facts, so when her boss sends her to Miami for the launch of a face-cream, it comes as no surprise to anyone that she becomes fixated on the idea that movie mogul Pierre is actually Osama bin Laden in disguise. Unfortunately, she also finds herself lusting after Pierre, and so, half out of a sense of duty to protect the world from terrorism and half to see if she’s found a guy worth dating, Olivia embarks on a self-appointed espionage mission to various locales around the world. She’s found her man, but now she must try to separate the facts from the fiction to see if Pierre belongs behind bars or between her sheets.

Why you should read this book: As one of the originals in chick lit, a new Fielding book might prove irresistible to fans – and Fielding does still shine in Oliva’s more vulnerable and indecisive scenes. Olivia is also more ballsy and confident than the infamous Bridget Jones, definitely a welcome turn. Olivia’s uncontrollable imagination allows the reader to keep guessing what’s really going on along with the story’s heroine.

Why you should avoid this book: Separately, chick lit and suspense novels can serve nicely for an entertaining read, but when a man-crazy woman meets up with the world of Osama bin Laden and post-September 11 terrorism, things are bound to go badly. For one thing, the abundance of negative racial stereotypes the story revolves around is atrocious. Seeing a middle-Eastern man and presuming he’s involved with terrorism? Please. Fielding should be hanging her head in shame. Some of the greatest literary minds in the world refuse to touch the September 11 issue in fiction, so what made Fielding think it was a good idea to infuse the topic with flippant chick lit? The espionage adventures aren’t really working for Fielding, either. Olivia’s high-tech gizmos, supposedly taking a page from James Bond’s book, are lame and goofy, like a tranquilizer syringe in the underwire of her bra. Some freshness in chick lit is nice, but this was a bit ridiculous.

Opening paragraph:

‘The problem with you, Olivia, is that you have an overactive imagination.’
‘I don’t,’ said Olivia Joules indignantly.
Barry Wilkinson, foreign editor of the Sunday Times, leaned back in his chair, trying to hold in his paunch, staring over his half-moon glasses at the disgruntled little figure before him, and thinking: And you’re too damned cute.

Fabulous quotes:

Olivia stared around the room, disbelieving. She hadn’t called the FBI, had she? She had only practiced calling the FBI. Had they perfected reading people’s thoughts over phone lines? No. The CIA possibly, but not the FBI. She sat down on her bed. Surely not. The only person who had known that she was going to call them was Kate.

Olivia looked down for a moment, recovering her composure. It was fine, it was absolutely fine. Olivia’s theory was that you could divide women into two types: those who were on the Girls’ Team, and Undercover Bitches. If a woman was on the Girls’ Team, she could be as beautiful, intelligent, rich, famous, sexy, successful and as popular as fuck, and you’d still like her. Women on the Girls’ Team had solidarity. They were conspiratorial and brought all their fuck-ups to the table for everyone to enjoy. Undercover Bitches were competitive: they showed off, tried to put others down to make themselves look good, lacked humor and a sense of their own ridiculousness, said things which sounded okay on the surface but were actually designed to make you feel really bad, couldn’t bear it when they weren’t getting enough attention, and they flicked their hair. Men didn’t get this. They thought women took against each other because they were jealous. Quite tragic really.

Instead, try: Angels by Marian Keyes; The Empty Chair by Jeffery Deaver; Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.

Also by this author: Bridget Jones’s Diary; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason; Cause Celeb.

Fun tidbit: In interviews, Fielding has said that in order to be funny, you have to walk a ‘fine line of bad taste.’

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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