Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination is Helen Fielding's fifth book, a light-hearted spy thriller published in 2004. It chronicles the adventures of Olivia Joules (birth name Rachel Pixley), a freelance journalist with an "overactive imagination". After meeting the handsome Pierre Feramo, Olivia immediately comes to the conclusion that he is a terrorist and follows him around the world to confirm her suspicions whilst falling for another man.
The book delves into the world of espionage as it follows the adventures of freelance journalist-turned spy, Olivia Joules. While covering a face cream launch in Miami, Olivia meets the alluring international playboy, Pierre Feramo. Suspicious that he is an international terrorist, she follows him to Los Angeles, Honduras, and the Sudan, while he is under the impression that she is falling in love with him.
Olivia Joules — A young freelance journalist who works for the Sunday Times and Elan International Magazine. While in Miami for the launch of a face cream marketed by Devorée, a celebrity, she meets Pierre Feramo. Something about his looks and mannerisms reminds her of Osama bin Laden, but she is strongly attracted to him and he apparently to her. Soon she is accepting dates with him around the world, trying to find out more about him, while his actions raise her suspicions.
She is an orphan (at fourteen, her parents and brother were run over by a lorry while she was buying Cosmopolitan and candy) and a dropout of Worksop Comprehensive (apparently a dreary school in the North Midlands of England), and has made up for her lack of university education by learning French, Spanish, German, and Arabic. In contrast to Bridget Jones, she is very intelligent, albeit rather paranoid at times, and has a svelte figure. Pierre Feramo seems to be drawn to her because she is English, polite, and very decent.
Pierre Feramo — The extravagantly rich, suave and handsome playboy who seems to be falling in love with Olivia Joules. He whisks Olivia away on extravagant dates in beautiful, luxurious hotels. He is apparently filming a film called Boundaries of Arizona, intended to help young wannabes break into the film industry. In actuality, he despises Hollywood and all that encompasses it. On one of his dates with Olivia, he tells her of his studies in France, his studies at Grasse where he became a "nose" for the French perfume industry. Pierre mentions a father whom he seems to fear and hate (and says nothing about his mother). Later in the book, we discover he is not French (just as Olivia had suspected), and is actually part Arab.
Suraya — A beautiful Indian model with silky black hair who often accompanies Pierre. She lives with him and becomes jealous when Pierre begins courting Olivia. She has traces of a West Coast drawl in her voice and Olivia believes she could be English from the notes of her accent. She behaves in a spoiled, bored manner and is treacherous when she does not get her way.
Morton C. — An intelligent diver of whom Olivia is quite fond. He is very masculine and self-assured and has a mysterious aura to him. Olivia befriends him and makes out with him in Honduras, until she becomes suspicious of his behaviour.
Barry Wilkinson Olivia's boss and editor of the Sunday Times. He is very unsympathetic in the way that he never cares if Olivia is hurt, he just wants the story. In the first few lines of the book, we find that he is attracted to Olivia.
Kate O'Neill — A friend of Olivia who is a foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times, a job that Olivia covets. She acts like an older sister to Olivia, always watching out for her and warning her about getting involved with Pierre Feramo.
Kimberley — An acquaintance of Olivia who she meets while in Miami. She is a Hollywood wannabe with "perky breasts and nonexistent hips". She reveals to Olivia that her family is part Italian, part Romanian, and part Cherokee. She seems to want fame desperately and follows Pierre to LA and Honduras, along with others.
Michael Monteroso — An incompetent "facial technician" who charges ridiculous prices for his facial treatments. He gives Olivia a facial before her date, leaving circular red marks all over her face. Michael Monteroso is a real person and is mentioned in Fielding's Acknowledgments.
In an interview with BBC News, Helen Fielding was inspired for this book by the way the world responded to the September 11 attacks. She once spent some time in the Sudan as a journalist and loved her time there. In light of the invasion of Iraq, Fielding wondered why they had not sent a female spy in to interview the perpetrator. She felt that women have an air of innocence around them that men lack. Olivia parallels James Bond in many ways and Fielding was very fond of Ian Fleming's novels.
- In the UK edition, there are comic-strip type pictures of Olivia that relate to her espionage activities.
- In many ways (i.e. weight, ideals, actions, possessions) Olivia is the exact opposite of Bridget Jones.
- The novel was inspired by the September 11 attacks.
- Olivia has a list of sixteen "Rules for Living" which include things like "No one is thinking about you. They're thinking of themselves, just like you."