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Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

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9780143035367: Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination
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At the close of the last millennium, Helen Fielding debuted the irrepressible (and blockbuster-bestselling) Bridget Jones. Now, Fielding gives us a sensational new heroine for a new era...Move over 007, a stunning, sexy-and decidedly female-new player has entered the world of international espionage. Her name is Olivia Joules (that’s "J.O.U.L.E.S. the unit of kinetic energy") and she's ready to take America by storm with charm, style, and her infamous Overactive Imagination.

How could a girl not be drawn to the alluring, powerful Pierre Ferramo-he of the hooded eyes, impeccable taste, unimaginable wealth, exotic international homes, and dubious French accent? Could Ferramo really be a major terrorist bent on the Western world’s destruction, hiding behind a smokescreen of fine wines, yachts, and actresses slash models? Or is it all just a product of Olivia Joules’s overactive imagination?

Join Olivia in her heart-stopping, hilarious, nerve-frazzling quest from hip hotel to eco-lodge to underwater cave, by light aircraft, speedboat, helicopter, and horse, in this witty, contemporary, and utterly unputdownable novel deluxe.

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About the Author:

Helen Fielding, a journalist and a novelist, is the author of three previous novels, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Cause Celeb. She also co-wrote the screenplays for the movie of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the forthcoming sequel based on Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1. London

The problem with you, Olivia, is that you have an overactive imagination.”

“I don’t,” said Olivia Joules indignantly.

Barry Wilkinson, foreign editor of the Sunday Times, leaned back in his chair, trying to hold in his paunch, staring over his half-moon glasses at the disgruntled little figure before him, and thinking: And you’re too damned cute.

“What about your story about the cloud of giant, fanged locusts pancaking down on Ethiopia, blotting out the sun?” he said.

“It was the Sudan.”

Barry sighed heavily. “We sent you all the way out there and all you came up with was two grasshoppers in a polythene bag.”

“But there was a locust cloud. It was just that it had flown off to Chad. They were supposed to be roosting. Anyway, I got you the story about the animals starving in the zoo.”

“Olivia, it was one warthog—and he looked quite porky to me.”

“Well, I would have got you an interview with the fundamentalist women and a cross amputee if you hadn’t made me come back.”

“The birth of Posh and Becks’s new baby you were sent to cover live for BSkyB?”

“That wasn’t hard news.”

“Thank God.”

“I certainly didn’t imagine anything there.”

“No. But nor did you say anything for the first ten seconds. You stared around like a simpleton, fiddling with your hair live on air, then suddenly yelled, ‘The baby hasn’t been born yet, but it’s all very exciting. Now back to the studio.’”

“That wasn’t my fault. The floor manager didn’t cue me because there was a man trying to get into the shot with ‘I’m a Royal Love Child’ written on his naked paunch.”

Wearily, Barry leafed through the pile of press releases on his desk. “Listen, lovey...;”

Olivia quivered. One of these days she would call him lovey and see how he liked it.

“...;you’re a good writer, you’re very observant and intuitive and, as I say, extremely imaginative, and we feel on the Sunday Times, in a freelancer, those qualities are better suited to the Style section than the news pages.”

“You mean the shallow end rather than the deep end?” “There’s nothing shallow about style, baby.” Olivia laughed. “I can’t believe you just said that.” Barry started laughing as well.

“Look,” he said, fishing out a press release from a cosmetics company, “if you really want to travel, there’s a celebrity launch in Miami next week for some—perfume?—face cream.”

“A face-cream launch,” said Olivia dully

“J.Lo or P. Binny or somebody...;there we go...;Devorée. Who the fuck is Devorée?”

“White rapper slash model slash actress.”

“Fine. If you can get a magazine to split the costs with us, you can go and cover her face cream for Style. How’s that?”

“Okay,” said Olivia doubtfully, “but if I find a proper news story out there, can I cover that as well?”

“Of course you can, sweetheart,” smirked Barry.

2. South Beach, Miami

The lobby of the Delano Hotel was like a designer’s hissy fit on the set of Alice in Wonderland. Everything was too big, too small, the wrong color, or in the wrong place. A light in a ten-foot-high shade hung in front of the reception desk. Muslin curtains sixty feet long fluttered in the breeze beside a wall dotted with miniature wall lamps and a snooker table with beige felt and ecru balls. A dark man was sitting on a white molded chair that looked like a urinal, reading a newspaper. The man looked up as a slender girl with blunt-cut blond hair stepped into the lobby. He lowered his newspaper to watch as she looked around, amusement flickering across her features, then headed for the reception desk. She was wearing jeans and a thin black top, carrying a soft tan-leather tote, and dragging a battered tan and olive carry-on behind her.

“Awesome name,” said the receptionist. “Is that Jewels as in Tiffany?”

“No. J.O.U.L.E.S. As in the unit of kinetic energy,” the girl said.

“No kidding? Ah yes, here we are,” said the receptionist. “I’ll have the bellboy bring in your luggage and send it to your room.”

“Oh, don’t worry. This is all I’ve got.”

The dark man watched as the small, determined figure marched off towards the elevators.

Olivia stared in consternation at the elevator doors, which seemed to be made of quilted stainless steel. As they were closing, a beautiful bellboy in a white T-shirt and shorts forced his arm between them and leapt into the elevator beside her, insisting on helping her take her luggage—despite the lack of it—to her room.

The room was entirely white: white floor, white walls, white sheets, white desk, white armchair and footstool, white telescope pointing at a white venetian blind. The charmingly shaggable, white-clad whippersnapper pulled up the blind, and the startling aquamarines and electric blues of Miami Beach burst into the room like a tiny, vivid oil painting in the center of a thick white frame.

“Yeees. It’s like being in a hospital,” she murmured.

“Rather more comfortable, I hope, ma’am. What brings you to Miami?”

His skin was like an advert for youth, peachlike, glowing, as if it had been force-fed vitamins in a greenhouse.

“Oh, you know, she said, moving closer to the window. She looked down at the lines of umbrellas and loungers against the white sand, the pastel lifeguards’ huts, the surreally blue sea crisscrossed by yachts and Waverunners, a line of big ships following each other along the horizon like ducks in a shooting gallery “My God, what’s that?” One of the ships was three times as big as the others: oddly big, like a pelican in the middle of the ducks.

“That’s the OceansApart,” said the bellboy with proprietary pride, as if he owned not only the ship, but Miami and the ocean too. “It’s like an apartment block—only floating? Are you here on business or pleasure?”

“They built it already?” she said, ignoring the nosy young whippersnapper’s rudely interrogatory manner.

“They sure did.”

“I thought it was still just an artist’s impression.”

“No, ma’am. This is the maiden voyage. It’s going to be anchored in Miami for four days.”

“This is the one on a permanent cruise from Grand Prix to Australian Open to Masters kind of thing, and the people fly in by helicopter to find their Picassos and dental floss laid out waiting?”

“You got it.”

“Sounds like it might make a good story”

“Are you a journalist?”

“Yes,” she said, pride in her quasi foreign-correspondent status overcoming her discretion.

“Wow! Who for?”

“The Sunday Times and Elan International magazine.” She beamed.

“Wow. I’m a writer too. What are you writing about here?”

“Oh, you know. This and that.”

“Well, if you need any help, just give me a call. My name’s Kurt. Anything else I can do for you at all. . ?”

Well... now you come to mention it . . . she felt like saying. Instead, she chastely tipped him five bucks and watched the delightful little white-clad bottom depart.

Olivia joules liked hotels. She liked hotels because:

When you went into a new hotel room, there was no past. It was like drawing a line and starting again.

  1. Hotel life was almost Zen-like in its simplicity: a capsule ward robe, capsule living. No debris, no nasty clothes you never wore but couldn’t throw away, no in-tray, no dishes full of leaky pens and Post-it notes with chewing gum stuck to them.

  2. Hotels were anonymous.

  3. Hotels were beautiful, if you picked right, which, after hours and sometimes days looking at hotel Web sites on the Internet, she inevitably did. They were temples of luxury or rusticity, coziness or design.

  4. The mundanities of life were taken care of and you were freed from domestic slavery hell.

  5. No one could bother you: you simply put DO NOT DISTURB on the door handle and the telephone and the world had to bugger off.

Olivia had not always loved hotels. Most of her family holidays had been taken in a tent. Until the age of twenty-two her only hotel experience had been of dingy yet embarrassingly formal Crowns and Majestics in northern British seaside resorts—strange-smelling, with bizarrely patterned carpets and wallpapers, where the guests spoke in intimidated whispers and forcedly posh accents, and her entire family would freeze with shame if one of them dropped a fork or a sausage on the floor.

The first time she was sent to a hotel on business, she didn’t know what to do or how to behave. But when she found herself in an elegant, untouched room, with a mini-bar, crisp white cotton sheets, room service, high-end soap, no one to answer to and free slippers she felt like she’d come home.

Sometimes she felt bad about liking hotels so much, worried that it made her a spoilt lucky bitch. But it wasn’t just posh hotels she liked. It wasn’t really to do with poshness. Some posh hotels were disgusting: snobbish; overly fancy; not providing the things you needed at all, such as phones that worked, food that arrived hot on the same date as the one on which it was ordered; noisy air conditioning units; views of car parks; and, worst of all, snooty, unfriendly staff. Some of her favorite hotels weren’t expensive at all. The only real criterion of fineness she trusted was whether, on arrival, the toilet paper was folded into a neat point at the end. In the Delano, it was not only neatly pointed, it had a white sticker on saying THE DELANO in cool gray capitals. She wasn’t sure about the sticker. She thought it might be taking things too far.

She put the case on the bed and started lovingly to unpack the contents that would become her home until she was forced back to London. Last thing out of the bag, as always, was her survival tin, which she tucked under the pillow. It wasn’t clever to carry the survival tin through airports, but it had been with her for a long time. It looked like an old tobacco tin. She had bought it in an outdoor adventure shop on the forecourt of Euston station. The lid was mirrored underneath, for signaling. The tin had a handle to transform it into a miniature pan. Inside was an edible candle, a condom for water carrying, cotton wool, potassium permanganate for cleaning wounds and fire lighting, fish hooks, a rabbit snare, a wire saw; water proof matches, a flint, fluorescent tape, razor blades, a button compass and a miniature flare. She hadn’t used any of the items except the condom—which had been several times replaced—and the cotton wool in the occasional hotel that didn’t offer cleansing pads. But she was certain that one day the tin would save her by helping her to collect water in the desert, strangle a hijacker, or signal from a palm—fringed atoll to a passing plane. Until then it was a talisman— like a teddy or a handbag. Olivia had never thought of the world as a particularly safe place.

She turned back to the window and the view of the beach. There was a laminated instruction card hanging from the telescope. She looked confusedly at it for a second, then gave up and peered into the eyepiece, seeing a green blur of magnified grass. She adjusted a dial to reveal the seafront upside down. She carried on, adjusting to the upside-down world moving down—or up? —to a jogger, ugh, without a shirt on (why boastfully revolt others?) and a yacht smacking awkwardly into each wave. She moved on upside-downedly side ways until she came to the OceansApart. It was like the white cliffs of Dover heading for Miami.

She dragged her laptop out of her bag and hanged out an e-mail to Barry

Re: Fantastic new story

1. Miami Cool, going really well.
2. Great Style story: OceansApart—obscenely large new floating apartment block—docked in Miami on maiden voyage.
3. Can cover but would need one or ideally two more nights here? Over and out. Olivia.

She read it, nodding with satisfaction, pressed “Send’ then looked up at the mirror and started. Her hair was quite mad, and her face horrifying in its puffiness: the product of sixteen hours spent in planes and airports—five of them stuck in Heathrow be cause someone had left a laptop in the ladies’ loo. The face-cream party was at six. She had twenty minutes to transform herself into a dazzling creature of the night.

Fifty-eight minutes later she emerged, breathless, from the elevator, scrubbed and polished. A line of white limos stretched from the front of the lobby all the way up the avenue, horns blaring. The hotel bouncers were in their bossiest of elements, throwing their weight around in little white shorts and talking into headsets with the gravitas of FBI agents. Two girls with huge breasts and no hips were posing with rather desperate grins on a red carpet. They looked like weird man-woman hybrids—the upper part buxom female, the lower adolescent boy. They were striking identical poses, standing side-on to the flashbulbs, one leg in front of the other, bodies forced into an S shape, as if they were trying to duplicate a diagram from InStyle magazine or were desperate to go to the loo.

The greeting table displayed a precarious pyramid of tubs of Devorée—Crême de Phylgie, very surgical-looking, plain white with plain green writing. Olivia gave her name, took one of the glossy press packs and headed, reading it, towards the throng, shuddering at the list of repulsive-sounding algae and sea-critter-based ingredients.

A woman in a black trouser suit powered over, arranging her face into the sort of frightening white-toothed smile that looks like that of an angry monkey. “Hi! You’re Olivia? Melissa from Century PR. Welcome. How was your trip over? How was the weather in London?” She marched Olivia towards the terrace, asking inane and ceaseless questions without pause for answer. “How is your hotel room? How’s Sally at Elan? Will you give her my regards?”

They stepped out on the deck where le tout fashionista and musico Miami monde was artfully arranged around a selection of wrong-sized furniture, and spilling down some steps into the garden below, where white-covered comfy chairs, giant indoor table lamps and cabanas surrounded the turquoise-lit pool.

“Have you tried the Devorée martini? You got the press release about the chef who’s prepared the special dishes we’ll be sampling tonight?” Olivia let Melissa’s autowitter wash over her. Usually, she tried to let annoying people do their thing and hoped they’d buzz off as soon as possible. Night had fallen with tropical suddenness. The landscaping was lit with flaming torches, and beyond was the ocean, crashing in the darkness. Or maybe, she thought, it was an air conditioning unit. There was something odd about this party. It felt controlling and tense, like Melissa. The wind was lifting press releases and serviettes, ruffling dresses and hair. There were people around who didn’t fit, moving and watching too anxiously for Party Funland. She focused on a group in the far corner, trying to figure them out. The women were actress/model types: big hair, long legs, small dresses. The men were harder to place: dark-haired, olive-skinned, high mustache quotient. They were making a show of being rich, but they weren’t quite getting it right. They looked like an advert froni Debenham’s in-house magazine.

“If you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I need to bring over. Oh look, there’s ...

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