Debut fiction (published in 1994 in England) from the megaselling author of Bridget Jones novels, this about an African refugee camp volunteer who enlists her glamorous London friends for a celebrity benefit.
Rosie Richardson is a young literary publicist, naive to a fault and madly in love with Oliver Marchant, a handsome cad who hosts a well-regarded BBC show on the arts, when she first volunteers for SUSTAIN (a famine relief agency). Heartbroken over Oliver’s refusal to make a commitment, and fed up with his selfishness and terribly, terribly controlling behavior about important things like her nondesigner clothing, Rosie heads for Africa, determined to do something about the starving innocents caught in the crossfire of yet another civil war. She returns to London somewhat sadder and wiser, but volunteers again several years later. Many ironic cultural misunderstandings ensue, and, of course, there is all that messy dying to cope with. But cope Rosie does, along with a predictable cast of supporting others: Henry, a raffish and oversexed aide, who charms the khaki pants off Sian, a pretty nurse, when not being chided by Dr. Betty, a saintly older woman who is soon replaced by a love interest for Rosie—Robert O’Rourke, a dedicated and selfless physician. All well and good, but Rosie seems to view the unspeakable tragedy of mass starvation as a mere backdrop for her own decidedly minor problems of unrequited love and general anomie. Meanwhile, the people she’s come to help are seen mostly as dirty, fatalistic, and—worst—utterly impractical. When famine strikes again, though, Rosie gets the sort of remorseful Oliver to corral some famous folk for an international benefit and save the day. Sort of. Fielding’s heroine may not share the overt racism of the relief agency’s press rep, who hopes to introduce “the notion of the learned African person . . . thirsting for knowledge to replace what we call the Starving Monkey Myth,” but Rosie is unpleasantly condescending all too often. And the contrast between London’s media elite—the chattering classes, and how—and the mute suffering of the famine’s helpless victims makes for heavy-handed satire at best.
Not likely to find many fans this side of the Atlantic.