Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

I’m going to be completely honest here, and say that Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination was absolutely ridiculous the whole way through. If I’m being really, brutally honest, it’s exactly the kind of book that I was embarrassed to be caught reading in public, because it was just so damn trashy, and that was a real shame. I’m a big fan of Bridget Jones, in book and film form (although I am finding it harder and harder to revisit the Bridget Jones franchise over the years, I will admit it’s getting a bit too close for comfort now). I also haven’t forgiven Helen Fielding for the general storyline of the third book (which I can’t even bring myself to read yet, I’m so cross about it). The whole point of Bridget Jones is to bring hope to women that their happy-ever-after can still happen, and then she kills of Mr Darcy. What was she thinking?! This is nearly as traumatic for me as Fred Weasley being killed, talk about unnecessary! Anyway, slight tangent, but the point I’m trying to make is that I wouldn’t consider the Bridget Jones books to be trashy at all, but I think what Helen Fielding’s done here is to stick to a well-known and well-loved formula from Bridget Jones, and then cock it right up in Olivia Joules.

I can put up with the daft writing in Bridget Jones because it’s a first-person diary, and I could easily believe that they were the daft thoughts flowing from the pen of a daft character. It was believable, and it worked. What really doesn’t work is to continue the daft writing style in third person, ala Olivia Joules, when there’s no daft character responsible for voicing such ridiculous similes. “His skin was like an advert for youth, peach-like, glowing, as if it had been force-fed vitamins in a greenhouse.” Really? And that’s one of the least ridiculous similes I came across, but I didn’t really fancy trawling through the book again for more examples. I don’t know if it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not, and it certainly is laughable, but I suspect not in the way that was intended. It just feels like bad writing, and I feel quite mean saying that, but there’s lots of awkward “info-dumps” thrown in (that’s not a term I particularly like, but it is accurate), and an awful lot of clichés and stereotypes. It’s all a bit awkward to read. There’s one chapter which seems to constantly mention “choppers”, but why not just say helicopter? Maybe Olivia would say “chopper”, but we’re not reading it from her point of view. It just didn’t really work for me.

I also found the storyline itself pretty tasteless, actually. Olivia Joules is a journalist who’s meant to be covering the launch of new face creams, and yet thinks she’s uncovered a terrorist cell instead. This is a pretty accurate summary of her thought process, as it unfolds on the page: “Hey, that Ferramo guy’s super hot, but he kind of reminds me of someone. Who does he look like? Oh my god, he looks like Osama Bin Laden! He must be a terrorist! I’m going to break into his house and look for evidence of terrorism! After all, he must be up to no good, he looks so much like Osama Bin Laden! But hey, isn’t he also super hot?”  Seriously. I don’t think tasteless is even a strong enough word. It’s just absurd, and if the stereotyping alone wasn’t enough to make you cringe, the associations drawn with Osama Bin Laden will really make your toes curl. Why did Helen Fielding think this was a good idea? Frankly, it’s embarrassing. That sounds really harsh, but it is.

And yet (and this is a BIG ‘and yet’), I actually did find myself really enjoying it by the end. Isn’t it funny how these things work? I thought it was pretty predictable, especially the love interest and his whole relationship with Olivia, and it really was so unbelievably trashy, but at the same time it was kind of fun. I definitely laughed at it; I don’t know if I was laughing in the right places or at the right things, but I did laugh. In a way, all the aspects of bad writing that originally made me cringe, actually made it a more enjoyable read for me by the end. The whole thing was daft, but the daftness gradually stopped annoying me and increased the fun factor instead.

Now I’m not normally a book snob, but I would still suggest that maybe this is the kind of book you should only whip out in public if you’re surrounded by people reading Twilight or Fifty Shades, because they clearly have no understanding of good writing anyway. (When I say I’m not normally a book snob, I mean with the obvious exceptions of Twilight and Fifty Shades, where the writing standard is, quite frankly, appalling). As you can tell I’m kind of torn by Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. It’s no Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I do think that Helen Fielding should have just accepted that and moved on, instead of trying so hard to make it like Bridget Jones. It was okay, but probably try and avoid spending actual money on it. (I picked mine up for 20p when it was being sold off by my local library for lack of usage. Hmm, I wonder why?).

See previous Book Review, featuring Ian McEwan’s First Love, Last Rites.