Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Olivia Joules is a feature writer for the Sunday Times, and longs for legitimacy and the coverage of a really big story. She's sent, instead, to Miami to cover the release of a perfume. There, she witnesses the sinking of a cruise ship described as a floating luxury apartment complex. Her overactive imagination serves her well in leading her straight into trouble.

I did like Olivia, and I did enjoy the narrative of this story, but I also found it lacking in ways that detracted from my enjoyment. I loved Olivia's cutting observations, but I felt like I wasn't really in Olivia's head much, though the bulk of the narrative takes place from her perspective. She engages in a lot of speculation and wondering aloud, but I didn't understand why she chose half the things she did. Apparently I was to infer that a one-off comment about wanting to be a secret agent was the key to her entire personality, except when it wasn't. I've never subscribed to the idea that pointing a gun at a woman counts as foreplay, either, so the entire romance angle went right over my head.

It also bothered me that the entire narrative hinges on the realization of a cultural stereotype. Olivia assumes Feramo is a terrorist because he's a Muslim, and we're never presented with a counterpoint of a Muslim who isn't a terrorist (unless Kate is a Muslim - her character lacks the development to provide that detail). We're left with the distasteful impression that Fielding is saying it's safer to jump to that conclusion.

My third complaint, which is more of a quibble, was underlined by the audio book experience. Fielding did very little research into American English, and so her American characters wind up sounding like displaced Brits. The narrator's American accent was inconsistent, too, so most of the cast sounded either Australian or like they were trying really, really hard not to sound British. As I said, this is more of a quibble than a real complaint, but it did distract me from the narrative at times.

Overall, I think that Helen Fielding could've written a much better book on the subject than this one. As this is the one I'm rating, though, I'll say it wasn't terrible. Just nothing to write home about, either.

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