Finished this book: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (by Helen Fielding)

Cover of the book

Cover of the book “Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination” by Helen Fielding.

Spoilers below, with another warning before you get there…

Helen Fielding gives good dialogue! And she has a knack for portraying the little things that make a character—well, perhaps not entirely believable and real, but very engaging and entertaining. I really enjoyed the first two Bridget Jones books despite the fact that Bridget’s massive insecurities and desperation to snag a man were irritatingly off-putting. I enjoyed Cause Celeb somewhat better although at this moment I can’t remember what it was about. Anyway, Olivia Joules is a great character and I liked her much more than I liked Bridget Jones. Joules is interesting, has some fun quirks, and handles her insecurities with more grace than Jones does. The story zips  along nicely, with the expected and the unexpected both given their place.

However. On the themes of gender and race relations (yes, I always think about this, along with class and homophobia and mental health stigma and ability and and and), I have some complaints that involve spoilers. So, on to the spoilers…

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Really, I’m going to wreck the plot for you here…

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Okay. You’re willing to keep reading. Here’s my big complaint: While Fielding writes a good, entertaining story that moves along at a quick pace and has some really snappy dialogue and hilarious observations about people, the plot itself slides the trope of the Arab Terrorist on like a comfortable glove. All of the funny, entertaining, interesting stuff happens within a framework of All-The-Brown-People-Actually-Turn-Out-To-Be-Bad-Guys. Joules’s “overactive imagination” turns out to be—gasp—correct! The hot initial (olive-skinned, mysterious, exoticised) love interest turns out to be a bad guy! And the true love interest is a white secret service law-and-order type. The bad guys lose, the good guys win, and we can tell them apart by their skin.

Now, of course I understand that sometimes a storyline has some good white people and some bad brown people. But the places where this story was particularly weak were the places where it sat comfortably in the Trope Glove: Joules’s first suspicion that something might be not quite right was when she noticed all the darker people not managing to fit in well with the other rich people—not “doing it” quite right. Because of course nobody from the Middle East or Africa knows how to “do” Rich Playboy convincingly. And not only does the mesmerising, magnetic, and powerful bad guy turn out to be a terrorist, he also suddenly (and with minimal and rather awkward foreshadowing) turns out to be a horrific sex offender, so we can have the scene where Joules barely escapes unscathed from the brute animal.

It was irritating to me that the plot rested lazily on this simplistic and stereotyped view of the world. Brown third world criminals vs white western spies. For me, it wrecked what would otherwise have been a fun book.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. Helen Fielding. ISBN 0670033332

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3 thoughts on “Finished this book: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (by Helen Fielding)

  1. Pingback: Finished this book: The Lions of Al-Rassan (by Guy Gavriel Kay) | Barking Back

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