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Helen Fielding: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

 

Crescent Blues Book Views Viking Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0670033332 (U.S. Edition)

Book: jaid black, One Dark Night
Billed as a departure from Bridget Jones, this much-anticipated offering from Helen Fielding provides no-holds barred exercise in wish fulfilment. The resourceful Olivia -- freelance journalist and amateur spy -- finds herself inadvertently embroiled in the world of high-stakes international espionage, all while reluctantly covering a high-profile face cream launch for the style section of The Sunday Times.

Driven by good intentions, a very smarmy editor and an earnest desire to cover "hard news," Olivia embarks on a journey into a fantastic wonderland of tiny-hipped, collagen-lipped actresses, self-important "facial technicians" and "lifestyle budget managers." She also takes in Miami, Los Angeles, Honduras and Sudan along the way.

Endowed with an endearing sense of the ridiculous, an ear for languages, formidable spy kit and good-old-fashioned female intuition, Olivia's adventures often stray beyond the realm of possibility but always prove brilliantly observed. Even the most surreal incidents achieve a winning archness without smugness. Olivia makes the spy thriller appealing again for those of us left cold by the slick James Bond template of girls, gadgets and archaic double entendres -- not least when she infiltrates the inner circle of the enigmatic, devastatingly handsome and dubiously French multimillionaire Pierre Ferramo. Ferramo is a man of many parts, by turns a cosmetics mogul, movie impresario, hotelier and possible psychotic maniac bent on destruction. Olivia's encounters with him become increasingly fraught. Run-ins with killer sharks, black-clad knife-wielding assassins and some questionable chest hair culminate in a close, if dimly lit, encounter with someone who could be Osama bin Laden!

Still, should the above disappoint, readers can relish the blue-eyed beefcake who keeps popping up in the most unexpected of places. He seemst o possess a good many sinister secrets -- and none too many clothes -- of his own.

While inviting her readers to enjoy the adventure, Fielding's trademark satirical wit shines through, resulting in an entertaining romp enhanced by pithy observations on men, women and the state of the world in general presented in a fallible human package. In short, all that made Bridget Jones a winner, with rather less of the singleton sob-story and a great deal more self-assurance -- without being too perfect. Well worth a look, even for the most die-hard Bridget haters.

Maysa M. Hattab

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