Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones's Diary
had a meandering, rather shapeless shape (as diaries will). Both fans and critics of that 1998 smash hit will be surprised to find that the author's first novel, previously unpublished in the United States, is a lot more sophisticated in structure. And Cause Celeb
is nearly as fun as Bridget Jones's Diary
, which is saying a lot, especially since Fielding's debut is about African famine. The narrator, Rosie Richardson, runs a relief camp in the invented country of Nambula. Henry, the most flippant member of her staff, wears a T-shirt that tersely lists the various motivations for relief workers to come to Africa: "(a) Missionary? (b) Mercenary? (c) Misfit? (d) Broken heart?" As Rosie herself admits, she is "a c/d hybrid and soft in the head to boot."
Flashbacks reveal that in London, Rosie had fallen in love with an erratic, emotionally abusive (but adorable!) newscaster. As she trailed about town in Oliver's wake, she came to know his in-crowd of movie stars, directors, and musicians. Her split with this media magnet is what initially sent her to Africa. Four years into Rosie's exile, however, a plague of locusts descends on the crops of a neighboring country, and refugees begin to flood her camp. She decides there's only one thing to do: go back home and round up her old celeb pals for a benefit TV special.
It should come as no shock that the London sequences are great fun, as is the climactic collision between movie stars and refugees. But the real treat is Fielding's handling of the camp sequences. Rosie and her staff struggle with their petty emotions as they confront the incredible suffering in front of them. Henry watches in disbelief as some starving refugees move their tent to a better location: "Never mind the old malnutrition--you go for the view." A newswoman visits the camp, and, fraught with emotion after first seeing the starving children, she caresses Rosie, whose response is this: "I hope the famine hadn't turned her into a lesbian." Fielding has found a voice that is both compassionate and irreverent, a rare and wonderful combination. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Fielding's first novel, published now in the States only following the success of her second (Bridget Jones's Diary), is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving, occasionally scurrilous delight. Rosie Richardson, the administrator of Safila, a refugee camp in the fictional African country of Nambula, needs funds fast. The usual relief agencies are tied up in diplomatic knots, a long-promised supply ship is always 10 days away and it looks as though thousands of refugees are about to come streaming over the border. If they arrive before the food does, hundreds of people will starve to death. Rosie, desperate, does the only thing she can think of: she quits her job, returns to England and organizes a celebrity fund drive. This effort is complicated by the fact that her ex-boyfriend, a manipulative TV presenter named Oliver, is her only access to celebrities. On top of dealing with the self-centered celebs, she must also come to terms with her old attraction to him. This is a tall order, as he is devastatingly handsome and unspeakably selfish. Unsurprisingly, the book turns out to be about growing up; the interest comes when it turns out that Rosie isn't the only one obliged to do so. Crosscutting from past to present, this is a two-for-the-price-of-one story: an amusing satire of the celebrity-obsessed West, and a sharp report on the callousness and inefficiency of relief work in Africa. Swinging from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreakingly sad, this book will please Fielding's old fans and win new ones. (Feb.) Forecast: Those who doubted Fielding could sustain her momentum may be surprised by her staying power. While this novel won't match the sales of Bridget Jones's Diary, it should do very wellDit has sold more than 500,000 copies in the U.K. and EuropeDwith sales boosted by the February release of the paperback edition of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and, in April, the release of the film version of Bridget Jones's Diary.
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