Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book #20: "Cause Celeb" by Helen Fielding

Helen Fielding is the author of my favorite work of Chick Lit: Bridget Jones' Diary; a book that was an absolute riot to read (and read over again). So I was very curious to see what else she had up her sleeve. Turned out that Cause Celeb was not at all what I expected it to be, both in a good and bad way.

The book stars Rosie Richardson, a single girl with a miserable job and a penchant for falling for bad men. In many ways she's just another Bridget Jones--aside from the Bad Boy obsession, she is awkward in social situations and doesn't have a very high opinion of herself. But unlike Bridget she seems to at least be aware of what her problems are and where they come from, and she actually does things to change them. When her bosses send her to the fictional country of Nambula in Africa for business, her life changes once she realizes that the people there have very real and terrifying problems. She decides to break up with her bad boyfriend and move to Nambula to become a volunteer for a charity that runs a refugee camp. A few years later she returns briefly to England to try and get her boyfriend and his celebrity friends to give money and help save the people of the refugee camp. Hilarity ensues, followed immediately by great sadness and misery.

It's the mix of the two that was a bit confusing to me. On the one hand, Fielding does a great job of mocking the culture of Celebrity Charity, where rich, famous people pretend to "Do Good" by feeling sorry for Africans and giving them some money, all for a little bit of good publicity. Sure, there's some good people with good intentions, but for the most part the celebrities live in a little cocoon that's completely separated from the real world, and when they all travel to Africa they get a bit of a shock at what they see. There's a particular character that's just hilarious and perfect-- a supermodel (clearly supposed to be Naomi Campbell) who insists that she wants to save 'her people' while not being sure who they are and thinking that all they need is some toilet paper. The mockery is hilariously done.

However, when the book suddenly switches from mocking celebrities or detailing the woes of Rosie's love life to trying to convey the misery of the camp or the tragedy of a famine, the book falters. The switches are a little jarring, and it's hard to go from parody back to Very Serious Business. It's like Fielding tried to write a parody mixed in with The Constant Gardener and didn't quite pull off the mix.

But mostly it's a good, fun read . Again, the harsh criticism Fielding gives to Celebrity Charity is pretty hilarious and scathing, and you get the idea that the real situation isn't very far off from the parody. I was expecting a fluffy, funny book, and instead got a scathing look at some very real problems involved with celebrity charity. And I was fairly happy with the result.

Fielding is a very funny, insightful writer, and while she might not hit the right note every single time, the book is worth a read. If only so you can try and guess which real-life celebrities she's really making fun of throughout the story.