Olivia Joules and the Really Great List

I finally read Bridget Jones’ Diary, and launched from there into a campaign to read everything Helen Fielding has ever written. I thought the Bridget Jones books were hilariously funny; they made me laugh on almost every page. But I especially enjoyed a more recent book of hers, “Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination.”

The Bridget Jones books are awesome, but Bridget’s way of spinning between all her addictions and sort of haplessly happening to fall into just the circumstance she needs is… well, it’s a mainstay of a lot of chick lit (the Shopaholic books are of course another great example) and it’s not something I would want to read all the time. Happily, Olivia Jones is a great antidote. This book - which I hope will be the beginning of a series of Olivia Jones adventures - is frequently funny but also very adventurous.

A lot of “chick lit” heroines follow a character arc of at first seeming to mess up everything they do, and then - rather than getting a handle on their lives - just luckily land in the right place at the right moment. Everyone thinks they are out of control, and then they have a brilliant idea in the depths of their addiction, a glimmering of how incredibly powerful they would be without it, and they turn the company around or start their own or save the day in general and everyone who doubted them has to, briefly, eat crow. Olivia Joules’ adventure starts out, misleadingly, just like that - she has grandiose journalistic dreams which always turn out to be figments of her imagination - but instead of going on as a comedy of errors, she actually turns into a sort of Jane Bond character who learns from her mistakes and becomes ever smarter, even wiser, as the adventure unfolds.

I often wonder, when I read the kind of chick lit that relies heavily on codependent, sex-addicted, alcoholic compulsive eaters, whether the authors are writing from personal experience with recovery and plan to show the chaos of addiction and then the process of recovery in some way, or whether it’s going to be a continual dance between Step One and just plain acting out. I am STILL waiting for Becky Bloomwood to get into Debtors Anonymous. I appreciate Helen Fielding’s books in part because she illustrates the causes and effects of abuse better than most. Bridget Jones’ mom is incredibly emotionally abusive and neglectful, her dad a wilfully codependent partner in neglect. And in Olivia Joules she even dares to have one of the characters recognize another’s oblivious alcoholism and identify it to others, which in many ways is a pretty advanced skill. It’s a great relief to find an author who I can trust to write about these issues in a realistic way, instead of the blithely sloppy “You can act out in seven thousand ways at once and still have an idealistic happy ending!” sort of writing that often gets a pass in chick lit.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive imagination certainly qualifies as chick lit - which is a great thing - but instead of holding the protagonist down in a perpetual pattern of Humorously Identifiable Foibles, Helen Fielding brings the entire genre to a hilariously, wonderfully empowering place.

But I’m not sharing this here because I want to point everyone to a great book or a great author. I’m sharing it because the protagonist has a list of rules she lives by, and I loved them. #2 is a realization that has helped me a lot since I came to it myself in about junior high school; #10 is a lesson I’ve only learned over the past year, which I’m still working on. In the book, she reviews these rules in stressful situations and finds that one or two of them tend to jump out at her, different ones at different times, and those tend to be the ones they need (what people in 12-step programs would think of as a higher power kind of thing). Which ones jump out at you?

(Rules for Living....)


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