two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
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0
A-OliviaJoulesFielding’s Bridget Jones books created a literary sensation. Critics (perhaps surprisingly) embraced the antics of the Brit "singleton," and fans delighted in her every misstep. Fielding returns with Olivia Joules ("That’s "J.O.U.L.E.S., the unit of kinetic energy"), freelance journalist turned international espionage operative. Joules kicks into overdrive when confronted with the enigmatic Pierre Ferramo: Is this powerful, handsome man with the ostensible French accent really a model-shagging playboy? Is he a serial-killing wine connoisseur? Could he be a disguised Osama bin Laden, cocked and ready to strike the U.S. again? Or are Joules’s suspicions a product of her overactive imagination?
Viking. 306 pages. $24.95.
ISBN: 0670033332

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… comic novelist Helen Fielding has moved beyond the Pride and Prejudice plotline of Bridget Jones’s Diary to create a heroine who is more Austin Powers than Jane Austen. … This fast-paced tale is smart and thoroughly silly." Meredith Broussard

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Whether Olivia is being lighthearted or profound, whether finding a little comfort over a cup of tea or being terrorized 80 feet below the deep blue sea, she struggles to find the line between paranoia and intuition. And whether your address is Worksop, Hollywood, Miami or the Sudan, who in this crazy world can’t relate to that struggle? My guess is no one." Carol Wolper

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"There are times when the brand-new Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination clicks brilliantly, with Fielding’s witty, deprecating prose drawing you in. But starting with the clunky title, this book just doesn’t seem to know where it’s going—even the locations hop frantically around the map." Melinda Bargreen

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Using terrorism to drive the plot of a flighty novel isn’t the problem either; Jon Stewart and David Letterman have already mastered fun-with-Osama jokes. No, the problem is Fielding’s discomfort with the genre she’s sending up. … [S]uccess seems to have brought her a new malady: fear of literary ambition." Caryn James

Philadelphia Inquirer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"This book is uncomfortably unfunny from its opening pages, a comic voice squandered in a very wrong direction. …[Fielding’s] played it too safe by channeling Bridget and attempted too much by employing al-Qaeda as a narrative device, when the truth is worse than any overactive imagination could devise." Karen Heller

Houston Chronicle 1 of 5 Stars
"This book can’t decide whether it wants to be a romantic comedy or a spy thriller, which might not have been such an obvious problem had terrorist attacks against the United States not been thrown into the mix. It just seems so insensitive or, as Fielding’s beloved Bridget would have put it: v. v. bad." Pamela Mitchell

Critical Summary

Critics uniformly admire Fielding’s wit; reviews for Olivia Joules acknowledge that her punch lines uncoil with deft precision and real insight. Some praise her for branching out of the more standard chick-lit genre she helped launch with Bridget Jones to create the kicky, modern spy-girl, Olivia (or, as the Los Angeles Times calls her, "Janey Bond"). No one, however, thinks Olivia Joules’ bin Laden plot line is funny. Several writers complain that mentions of al Qaeda yank the reader out of the story back into reality, almost as if someone had inserted snuff footage into Bambi. The third-person voice distances the reader as well. Fielding can find solace, though, in knowing that most regard this as a misstep and are eager to see what her imagination concocts next.

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