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Helen Fielding and the Underactive Imagination
on 22 January 2015
As popular as the first two were, there could never have been a third Bridget Jones book at the time the first two were new releases. After all, what else was there for her to do? She'd caught her man, so perhaps marriage and kids, but it would have been difficult to make that funny. Think about it: "7.02 a.m. Changed baby's nappy. 7.05 a.m. Changed nappy again. How can something so small create so much waste?" It's amusing, but a year of that would have got very boring very quickly.
It was time for Helen Fielding and her readers to move on. More accurately, in fact, it was time for her to go full circle. Fielding's debut novel, "Cause Celeb" was written in the standard style, without the diary format, although told largely in the first person by a female lead character. So the same style is used for "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination".
Olivia Joules is a journalist. Unfortunately, she's a journalist with an overactive imagination, which her editor doesn't think is suitable for covering news stories. He feels that she'd be better off covering the launch of a new face cream in Miami, well out of the way of any real news. Whilst she's there, however, she does run into what she thinks is some real news, becoming convinced that an international playboy she meets is Osama Bin Laden in disguise. Even more so when he seems to warn her to stay away from a cruise liner, the Oceans Apart, which is promptly blown to pieces.
Convinced this act was the work of terrorists and even more convinced that Pierre Ferramo, the international playboy in question, was behind it, she sets out to prove her theory. She follows Ferramo around the world, first to Los Angeles and then to Honduras, trying to find out more about him. On the way, everything that happens to her makes her more convinced that she is on the right track and being forced from it, despite all her friends and colleagues telling her she's mad and that it's just her overactive imagination taking charge once more.
Fans of the Bridget Jones diary style of writing might be a little put off at first by the way this is written. Whilst it's a fairly easy readable book, it is a novel rather than a diary, so there's not the same mangling of grammar or the breaks that make it as easy to dip into and put down. However, like Bridget Jones, it is fairly full of current cultural references, so it's very contemporary and has an easy frame of reference.
Unfortunately, it has a feel of being a little rushed. It's as if Fielding herself knew that she had to change tack from Bridget Jones and just grabbed the first popular reference that came to hand - the War Against Terror. Olivia Joules is also too much the opposite of Bridget Jones, in that she's an all-action kind of person, rather than one who sits around moaning about things and going out with her friends. Sure, there are a few similarities, with Olivia occasionally worrying about showing herself up in front of a new crowd, but these seem to be in there to appease the fans.
The end result is that you have a main character who you can't relate to terribly easily. Admittedly, being the wrong sex, it's difficult for me anyway, but where I could see parts of nearly everyone I know in Bridget Jones, I simply couldn't in Olivia Joules. I know of no-one who would suspect someone of being a terrorist, start following them around and be able to cope with everything that would entail. The places Olivia goes to aren't those most people would visit and the situations she finds herself in aren't like those any "normal" person would experience.
Part of the problem is that the only character I've come across who would adjust from a seemingly normal life to the "excitement" of what happened to Olivia was Jamie Lee Curtis' character in the film "True Lies". When characters in books start behaving like characters in films, it's a fair bet that things aren't in touch with reality. Indeed, this becomes truer later on the book, where the whole thing seems like a James Bond film. It's not a bad read, but it's all so horribly clichéd. That's never a good thing in a book and even worse when you think that it's a book by the author that helped define chick-lit in the first place.
On the plus side, the book is presented with short chapters, which makes it easy to pick up and put down. This is just as well, as you'll most likely finding yourself wanting to do that quite regularly. It's the ideal style for a book if most of your reading is done on public transport or to help you sleep, as mine is, but that's about all.
Maybe I'm missing the point and this book was supposed to be aimed at the teenage girl market and I would never have fallen into the right demographic for this book to appeal. But I don't really believe this. I think that Fielding has attempted to move away from Bridget Jones to gain a new voice and a new audience and has got so caught up in that idea, she forgot to add and reality or originality into the story.
This book really wouldn't stand up to a second reading. After all, it barely stands up to a first! This would be a no-brainer if it was a film, and it's even worse as a book, being little more than chick-lit meets James Bond. Unusually for Bond, the two are not happy bedfellows.
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