Helen Fielding Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

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Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

Helen Fielding


UK Paperback

ISBN: 0-330-43274-5

Pages: 344; Price: £7.99

Date Reviewed: 23rd July 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



General Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction

Naturally it must be daunting to follow up the runaway success that was the Bridget Jones books, 'Bridget Jones's Diary' and 'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason'. These novels managed to reach the hearts and minds of women worldwide, and not a few men, either. Bridget Jones was a character like thousands of other women, and that was her appeal, a kind of "It could happen to me", in familiar settings (bar, office, flat, bar again) with which everyone can identify. Part satire and part true-life, Bridget Jones was an unequalled success, because she had flaws and was loveably familiar to us all.

Olivia Joules, by contrast, has even more exaggerated characteristics, some teetering gently on the edge of psychosis. The title alone (enhanced by the cover picture) is reminiscent of Sixties spy or detective movies, and the location details at the head of some chapters (Popayan, Bay Islands etc) enhances this effect - almost like Bond movies. And in fact I think that this book has a lot of similarities with Bond movies - not just in terms of exotic settings (from the UK to tropical islands to the Oscars) and glamorous people, but also in that the Bond phenomenon is about escapism. It's not about empathy or recognizable character traits; it's about the unattainable, the impossibly unlikely and sheer fantasy. Bridget Jones is about how we'd like our lives to work out, whereas Olivia Joules is simply make-believe. Olivia Joules is how Bridget Jones might dream of being, but she is an utterly different creature. Olivia's hang-ups are far behind her, and she has learned to control herself completely in all situations. She is full of confidence and a master of disguise, who reinvented herself after a tragedy at the age of fourteen, which is a stroke of genius, since she thus became that woman that all women most envy: a woman who became her own ideal of perfection. Having changed her name, her figure, her accent and her career, Olivia has become a successful writer for The Sunday Times, where her over-active imagination has already got her into trouble (this being the one facet of her personality she cannot control). What Olivia really wants is to cover important news, and to be taken more seriously than she usually is, and this often leads her to jump to hilarious and unlikely conclusions, which is where her over-active imagination comes into play.

While working abroad, covering a launch for a face cream, she meets Pierre Feramo, an Arabic film producer who seems a bit dodgy, to say the least - but is also attractive. For a while Olivia is convinced that Pierre is in fact Osama Bin Laden - something that thankfully she does not reveal to her editor - and then begins to connect him to other sinister goings on in the vicinity. This leads to her involvement in drugs, murder, and glamorous yacht parties, and eventually MI6. Fortunately she travels armed with a hat pin, a survival tin and a pepper spray, so, armed for all occasions, Olivia Joules and her over-active imagination are unleashed on the world. As with the title, so with the book - Olivia and her imagination both play about equal parts in the novel, with exciting and hilarious consequences.

Helen Fielding successfully mixes humor, which we already know she does well, with action-packed excitement, and it works well. It even has moments of surprising moral speculation on the world we line in, particularly towards the end. There are touches of Bridget in there - for example in Olivia's Rules for Living, including "No-one is looking at you: they are all thinking about themselves, like you", which isn't a bad rule when you think about it. The novel even has pictures, very kitsch comic-strip pictures of Olivia looking glamorous climbing into helicopters or standing on boats with long hair and heavily mascaraed lashes. This is a perfect holiday read, escapism, with appealing characters who, if not believable, probably have the kind of lives we all dream about in our dafter moments! Enjoy.