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

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is focused on both the book and audiobook. Helen Fielding shows us that not only can she write a novel, but she can develop a new endearing character and evolve her writing to a higher level unseen previously. In "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination," Fielding introduces us to Olivia Joules, a smart and sophisticated journalist, whose vivid imagination often gets the best of her. Rather than being a star reporter as she often fantasizes, Joules operates out of the lifestyle section, covering cosmetic launches and perfume parties. Her misconceived sense of reality prevents her from returning to her position as a genuine news reporter.

But Olivia’s ambition and zany brainstorms won’t be set back by a mere demotion. Olivia is destined for grander things. While at another perfume launch in Miami, she witnesses the explosion of a famous cruise liner. Taking to action, she participates in the rescue mission to assist the survivors. When remembering the previous night’s subtle warning from Pierre Ferramo to avoid the cruise liner, Olivia’s mind kicks into overdrive as she stumbles onto what she believes is a conspiracy involving Osama bin Laden and Al-Queda. After all, Ferramo has dark Middle Eastern features and appears to be covering up an accent that Olivia knows is Arabic.

Believing there is more to the story, Joules follows Ferramo to Los Angeles, South America and ultimately Sudan in pursuit of the truth. They play cat and mouse as each pretends to be ignorant of the other’s true intentions. During her exploits, Joules manages to join up with MI6—the famous British intelligence agency and changes careers from freelance journalist to freelance spy. A little outlandish certainly, but all in the name of entertainment.

“Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination” spins an amusing tale filled rich characters. It blends humor with suspense and incorporates a love story that doesn’t dominate or detract from the quality of the story. Moreso than in prior novels, Fielding makes known her political disposition in regards to US foreign policy in a post 9/11 world. She makes evident through this audiobook that like many others, she does not condone the actions of the United States in the name of terrorism.

As for Olivia Joules as a character, Fielding created a strong independent woman that would leave poor Bridget Jones huddled under her sheets clinging to her self-help books. Olivia has a very strong personality and admirable self-esteem. While she can occasionally say something stupid or illustrate self-doubt, on the whole, she manages to stand straight and carry herself through the danger and adventure without worrying too much about her hair or outfit. In this regard, Fielding has really developed her skills as a writer of Chick Lit. No longer are we seeing the “don’t’s” of womanhood, but rather being offered a strong and independent woman, who may not be perfect but certainly a model to aspire to. At the onset, Joules’ “overactive imagination” symbolizes a certain silliness and immaturity, particularly when she is berated by her male boss. Yet, by novel’s end, Fielding has crafted the story in such a way that listeners recognize the “overactive imagination” as a healthy and positive characteristic of Joules.

Josephine Bailey executes the British native, Joules, perfectly. Consistently performing the various accents, she also manages to depict age quite well as the story contains characters both young and old. Bailey genuinely inflects the fears and doubts of Joules during the darker periods of the audiobook and delivers a certain exuberance during the lighter parts of the story.

Fielding’s latest creation delivers a full plate of entertainment. In “Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination,” she fits in action, adventure, love, great travel tips and destinations, a positive role model, and a really good story. But just as impressive, Fielding proves that further develop her ability as a writer.

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