About 20 pages into this novel, I was seriously wondering how Helen Fielding became so successful. Does she have any characters, I wondered, who are not insecure goofball women? I have now read all but her debut novel (not her articles) and I’m still a bit uncertain. What I am increasingly persuaded of is that her success says more about us, women readers, than her. We are all insecure and fear that at any minutes someone will realize that we are goofballs with cellulite on our thighs and fake hair color and one eyebrow more highly plucked than the other thanks to a fit of pique one morning in the mirror.
Olivia Joules gave herself a new name and a new life as a young woman after seeing her parents and sibling run down by a truck in a pedestrian crosswalk at age fourteen. She is a freelance journalist who has not quite gotten the job done thanks to her overactive imagination. She has a gift for languages and loves travel. She revels in the anonymity and blank slate of hotel rooms, as long as the toilet paper is folded into a crisp point upon arrival (but no stickers, please. That’s too much). She is sent on a joint assignment to cover the launch of a celebrity-label face cream in Miami and, while there, becomes convinced that she has met Osama bin Laden, or at least a terrorist. These suspicions are partly confirmed when a floating apartment complex is blown up and circumstances all point to her imagination being on point this time.
Olivia is sexy and fit, but, of course, does not realize it. She runs every morning, but also downs prodigious amounts of fatty and sweet breakfast foods. Doesn’t everyone who is fit and beautiful? The story goes from annoying to entertaining when Olivia’s imagination is, indeed, confirmed to be reality and Fielding leads her on a romp through the fantasy of every woman who has ever wished her boring life would be more like the movies. She is romanced by an exotic man, then two. She has wonderful tropical adventures. She buys spy gear. She is wooed by MI6 and becomes an actual secret agent and, in the end, saves the world. She even gets to tell off her former boss in a revenge-fantasy conclusion.
Helen Fielding remains a guilty pleasure and I will watch to see what she does next, but it would be very nice to see her create a character who is not quite to insecure, not quite so ditzy. Maybe that is just not her eye to the world. We shall see.