Book Group: This month's book 'Olivia Joules And The Overactive Imagination' by Helen Fielding

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The Independent Culture

Helen Fielding was a sharp, satirical novelist before Bridget Jones glugged her first vat of Chardonnay. Cause Celeb (1994), a spiky and hilarious portrait of the dangerous liaison between charity and stardom, predated the inimitable (but still much-imitated) Independent column. As we know, her cult diary of a Jane Austen girl in a Madonna world evolved into two mega-selling books and a blockbuster movie. In some lights, you might see this comedy-thriller about a hapless journalist-turned-globe-trotting agent as the joint offsping of Fielding's former projects. Olivia Joules herself, in Miami for a cosmetics launch when caught up in the hunt for a (maybe) international terrorist, has plenty of Bridget's floundering innocence and last-ditch resourcefulness. As a spoof of the jet-set spy genre, the novel revisits mondo Bond, but through the prism of Austin Powers. Does having a scatty heroine, rather than a gormless hero, on the case affect the parody? Olivia also staggers into the sort of high-gloss glamour locations (and characters) that offer Fielding, as scourge of showbiz, some juicy targets - especially in the Hollywood-set finale. How well does all this glitzy fun-and-games mesh with a plot that hauls in Bin Laden, Saddam and even "weapons of mass destruction". Just where does timely satire end and bad taste begin? (Picador, £7.99)