A few Saturdays ago, I got waylaid on a trip to Brooklyn by construction in New Jersey. It mucked things up forever and ever. In fact, even though I am no longer there am, in fact, in Louisiana enjoying Southern sunshine and my mother’s cooking, I know I left part of me on the New Jersey Turnpike, that part of me is still sitting with the car in park, watching bright day turn into dark night.
But I digress.
When I finally broke free from the New Jersey Hell Pike (where I’m convinced I still am), it was too late to make the event I planned to attend in Brooklyn, and I found myself on the Upper West Side, alone on a Saturday night, peckish, tired, and restless. I decided I’d eat within a block of wherever I could find parking. Along the way to a favorite restaurant, I popped into a small bookstore to find something to read over dinner. I saw a used copy of Helen Fielding’s Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination for $3.25 and decided it was worth a try. Until I got queasy about how Fielding mocked competent, ambitious women, I liked Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I found the sequel annoying and unbelievable. I’d heard that Fielding had “gone another way” with this novel, so I thought I’d give it a try, and I’m so glad I did.
Olivia Joules has all the best qualities of Bridget Jones–a tendency to fantasize as a way to cope with what could be a vapid or boring life, an ability to see the bright side of things without being annoyingly chipper, good taste in men–and she’s competent to boot! Olivia Joules is a free-lance writer who so desperately wants to be a secret agent that she tries to report on mysterious events that aren’t real at all. As a woman whose letter opener in her office is actually a dagger she was given during a role-playing game she made up with her friend Elissa when they were both in junior high, I can relate. The novel made me laugh aloud over my scallion-ginger pancakes and warm asparagus salad and weeks later, enjoying a quiet evening at my parents’ house, it made me anxious (in a good way) and sigh (in an even better way). And along the way, I picked up a good rule of thumb. I’d tell you who says it in the novel, but that would give the plot away:
The corruption of the good by the belief in their own infallible goodness is the most bloody dangerous pitfall in the human spectrum. Once you have conquered all your sins, pride is the one which will conquer you. A man starts off deciding he is a good man because he makes good decisions. Next thing, he’s convinced that whatever decision he makes must be good because he’s a good man….Always stick with people who know they are flawed and ridiculous.