BOOK REVIEW / Celebrity consciences on mercy dash to save the starving: 'Cause Celeb' - Helen Fielding; Picador, 14.99

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UNTIL SHE discovered what a pain it was, Rosie Richardson, Helen Fielding's heroine, thought herself terribly lucky to be the lover of a well-known television personality. She found herself at parties that were like the set of Spitting Image - everywhere a yammering famous face. But the famous were a club she hadn't quite joined and her own celebrity, Oliver Marchant, drove her mad with his moody, offhand cruelty - so mad indeed that she became an aid worker in Africa, which is where we find her, four years later, with a crucially new perspective.

Juxtaposing the haves of London with the have-nots of Africa without pontification or pathos is one of the things Helen Fielding pulls off so dextrously in this debut novel. That she achieves this with both wit and seriousness gets you squinting hard to catch the sleight of hand. She may have a broadly comic go at conspicuous celebrity caring, or snipe at an emaciated supermodel who wants to use starving African children as fashion accessories, but she is also prepared to look deeply at this curious link between Third World need and First World luvvie Aid. And she knows what she's talking about, having produced documentaries for Comic Relief in Africa.

Sick of 'too little too late' responses from the UN, governments and over- stretched aid agencies, Rosie wants to avert a disaster which she has seen coming with her own eyes. On a hair-raising recce into a heavily mined war zone, she has been caught up in a swarm of locusts devouring the meagre crops which might have staved off famine. Disease and starvation are about to strike, and mass migration to the refugee camp where she works looks sure to follow.

Rosie hatches a plan, stirring up some sanctimony and sneers among her fellow aid workers. Fewer refugees are likely to die if she can somehow get food and medical supplies quickly to her camp, and she reckons her best bet - as official channels continue to be sceptical and sluggish - will be to fly back to London and prod some of those big names she once knew into compassionate action.

After a highly embarrassing initial cold-shoulder from the gang, Rosie boldly dashes around locating the right string-pullers. When the selected celebrities finally meet their good cause face-to-face in Africa, a few inevitably behave like dickheads, but some - notably Oliver - find their heroic stride in an adrenaline-pumping race to get the right pictures and the right message into the satellite link-up slot. Oliver doesn't get the girl, however, as Rosie has moved on to an American doctor with better dialogue and a good deal less ego.

What keeps this hectic narrative on course is the likeable and well-earthed character of Rosie. She looks back at her Glenda Slagg-ish London years with bemusement. She well knows that it was just a broken heart that propelled her to her new life and she's heard the catch-phrases about Africa giving more to the aid-world than it receives, but she is damned if she, at least, won't try to give her all back.