Review| Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

Book Review Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen FieldingOkay, I’m going to crack this one out even faster than the last review. Currently, the kids are cleaning their rooms, and my time for writing will last only as long as their motivation to clean.

(Sidebar: that opening paragraph was the final thing I wrote yesterday before conceding defeat. Quiet writing time – quiet anything time – is rare and fleeting right now. Rather than starting fresh today, I’m just going to plug along where I left off. Wish me luck.)

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination was my final vacation read, and I anticipated it being the “beachiest” read of them all… Olivia is a journalist who feels stifled in her career, and is prone to flights of fancy. When she meets a handsome Middle Eastern man at a bar, she alternates between amorous feelings for the man and the suspicion that he’s probably a terrorist. Ignoring her assignment for work, she chooses to indulge her journalistic instincts and follow the handsome stranger. Is Olivia a run-of-the-mill racist, or is her overactive imagination picking up on a very real danger?

This is the first book I’ve read by Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones books. I was anticipating something comedic, maybe a little offbeat. Unfortunately the tone of this novel fell short of the mark. There were occasional glimpses of light-hearted, zany, rom-com territory, but the overarching tone was just, odd. Take, for example, the absolutely bizarre attempts to illustrate Olivia’s overactive imagination:

“Olivia started to imagine she was in a weird land of incest, and interbreeding, where fathers would sleep with their nephews and great-aunts have secret affairs with donkeys”

Not to sound judgy, but why would anyone imagine that? Granted, I took that quote out of the context of the story; it probably sounds all the crazier on its own. You’ll just have to trust me, context did not improve things. I found Olivia’s strange inner dialogue uncomfortable to read.

Although Olivia did stop to question whether she was making racist assumptions about the man she met in the bar, I remained unimpressed by her self-awareness. She jumped to the “imaginative” conclusion that he might be a terrorist on the basis of zero clues.

This is as good a place as any to insert a SPOILER. If you’re interested in reading this book, I suggest you leave this page immediately.


Ready for the SPOILER?

Consider yourself ALERTED.


The man from the bar does turn out to be a sadistic, international baddie of the highest order. Olivia’s wild jump from stranger to terrorist is justified. Isn’t that dangerous literary territory??? A white character assumes the worst of a character of color, and is narratively rewarded! I argue that suspicions confirmed do not eradicate wildly racist assumptions. Even though the man turns out to be a truly villainous character, Olivia jumped to conclusions about him upon first sight. So the answer to the question of whether Olivia is a run-of-the-mill racist, or whether she identifies a real danger is – YES, on both counts. One doesn’t cancel out the other.

I suppose I could continue with a more technical literary critique (addressing issues of pacing, character and plot development), but I think I covered the most important points already. This book was a letdown. Fieldings’s other novels might be stellar, but this one is a miss.

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