You wouldn’t think that a book about starvation in Africa could be funny without being heartless, but Helen Fielding manages just that in her debut novel (this one came out before Bridget Jones’s Diary).
Fielding manages to give the subject a light touch without treating it at all lightly. So if such a subject scares you (if, for instance, you’ve seen too many of those late-night appeals that make you feel guilty), don’t let those associations put you off reading this book.
I think the reason this book succeeds is its compassion: not just compassion for African war refugees and relief workers, but also for celebrities and TV producers and for everyone’s various strengths and weaknesses.
To sum up the story in a sentence: Rosie Richardson tells the story about how she left a very complicated love life in London to work as an aid worker in Africa, and then how she returned to London to organize a celebrity appeal to help her camp’s desperate situation.
In this book, Fielding deftly recognizes maudlin sentimentality, self-righteousness, and selfishness, and recognizes them without accepting any of them. The result is a remarkably moving book that’s humorous at times. A book that’s very forgiving of human foibles but also doesn’t let humanity get away with ignoring things like the plights of others either.
This is a book that’s clearly worth spending some time with. So, like I said, don’t get scared away because of the subject matter.