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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 16:58 GMT
Ghost of Bridget haunts Fielding
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online

Author Helen Fielding - famous for Bridget Jones's Diary - returns with her new novel, based around the adventures of a female spy.

Bridget Jones's Diary was credited with breaking the mould in women's literature, creating a complex character modern women could identify with, mistakes and all.

Now author Helen Fielding is back with her latest novel, Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, once again revolving around a single woman.

Helen Fielding

But unlike the brilliant Bridget, she fails to make the central character or the story anywhere near believable.

Fielding has attempted to ditch the "chick lit" label by producing a romantic thriller, but it is still strictly for the girls.


Fast-paced, glamorous and with international settings, it is achingly up-to-date, and its expansive plot includes some comment on world politics.

Olivia Joules is a freelance fashion journalist desperate to swap face cream junkets for an adventurous life as a foreign correspondent.

After bumping into a swarthy film director who she suspects of being an international terrorist, she gives herself the assignment of tracking him down. Oh, and the lairs of any other terrorists she may happen to meet along the way.

To begin with Olivia seems not that much less flaky than Bridget Jones, and there are a number of Gucci and Prada references thrown in to give it its hipness.

But as the story progresses, she suddenly possesses near-superpower abilities, with sharpness of mind that would make James Bond feel like an amateur spook.

And this is where the novel really fails, Fielding's glimpse into the spy world sounds as if it has been taken from every 007 film made, with a bit of Tom Clancy for good measure.


While the heroine goes from one scrape or kidnapping to another, she still manages to attract the men and keep a positive outlook - with an annoying "it could be worse attitude".

The plot gets confusing and the characters are underdeveloped, with Olivia remaining ageless and faceless.

Expectations were always going to be high for Fielding following the success of her past novels and her reputation for more-or-less creating a genre.

But herein lies the problem, in leading the field in women's fiction she has been mimicked and parodied to the nth degree, leaving Fielding struggling to shine above the copycats.

Did Olivia Joules grab your imagination - or does Fielding's latest heroine fall flat on her face? Tell BBC News Online what you thought of the book.

I thought Helen's latest character was terrible! I was of course like everyone else expecting something much better and was very disapointed. No chance of a hit film there!
NJ, London, England

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