Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

Cause Celeb

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By Helen Fielding
Don't be a fuckwit- go buy it! Amazon
Rating: Excellent.
Read: May 2005

Helen Fielding has proven herself to be one of my favorite authors. Bridget Jones saved me on a 17-hour flight home from Cape Town and I found a British copy of Cause Celeb in Strand NYC. This is Fielding's first novel, and if I can manage to pull off a first book anywhere near as good as hers, I will die of happiness.


Our narrator is Rosie Richardson, a young woman in London who was hired at a publishing firm because she happens to be 'nice to look at.' Her totty boss invites her to various parties, and at one of these, she meets Oliver. Oliver is an absolutely gorgeous member of the Famous Club (his own words), and it doesn't take long for them to become co-dependent. Alas, all is not well…

And poor Rosie escapes to Africa to do relief work. The people in Safila, where she is stationed, are low on rations, but stable… Except that the next shipment of food from the UN has been indefinately delayed and a mass exodus from a neighboring war-torn nation is fleeing from a swarm of locusts. Rosie, having grown into a rather different, stronger person than the one she was in London in her early and mid 20s, sees the danger, and the beaurocratic stymie that will allow a terrible famine to re-occur in the area. Lacking other options, she returns to London and the Famous Club, to try to arrange a media outcry that will force action to be taken.

I love Rosie, because she reflects what so many women go through. In their 20s, they are a bit pliable and lacking direction, but in their 30s, they learn what they will and will not tolerate and learn to put their foot down, to take action. She does so marvelously. Her relationship with Oliver is also classic, and one that is rarely tackled with such skill. He is emotionally abusive, one moment swearing he loves her and then not calling for days and blaming it on her. With the barrier of time, Rosie can see this pattern clearly, but she narrates in alternately flash-backed chapters, so while the crisis in Africa grows we are watching her relationship with Oliver kindle, sizzle, scald, and finally sear away. She exhibits all the signs of women in abusive relationships, without all the stereotypical aspects replayed endlessly on soaps and in novels. More examples like Rosie's should be popularized- too many women are victims of fuckwits like Oliver and never realize that what they are feeling is real, and what is happening to them is dangerous.

On a lighter note- there is, in fact, a lighter note. Yes, people are dying, but somehow Ms. Fielding manages to pull out some absolute GEMS of humor. They carry the same flavor the Bridget Jones did- they are obviously written by the same woman- but it never feels out of place. Everything is in context and appropriate.

And everyone is so BRITISH and so AFRICAN! I LOVE it!! It feels like home. The cast of characters is rich and diverse. The Famous Club is populated with braindead floozies (Vicky Spankie), the Old Boys' Shapespearean Gay Club, the cynical (Don't you realize this is all just neocolonialism?), etc. In the relief camp, we have Betty, the older doctor who has been working the camps for decades, always handy with a story about someone to provide reference for the situation at hand. Henry, raised by the rich and stupid, who says things like "old boy." And O'Rourke, the new doctor, who is really quite marvvy- likes to yell things when he gets fed up. Love him. In town, there is Muhammad, the wise, educated African who relays information between both sides of the language barrier. He is fantastically wicked and I ADORE him.

I also find it amusing what things date the novel. Micheal Jackson and Liv Tyler… the introduction of mobile and car phones… The fact that the nation Safila is located in is buddy-buddy with Saddam Hussein. "It's love. It's marriage. We expect them to have each other's babies any day now." For clarification, it's the early/mid 1990s.

To conclude, I love it. Everything about it. Helen Fielding is brilliant. Pick up a copy, and don't worry if you think it might turn pretentious or grind to a halt- I promise that neither is true.

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Written by Shen

May 9, 2005 at 12:00 am

Posted in Africa, contemporary, Europe

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