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October 10, 2013 2:34 pm
Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, by Helen Fielding, Jonathan Cape, RRP£18.99, 392 pages
When it was published in 1996, Bridget Jones’s Diary captured the mood – and the heart – of young, female Britain. Bridget was the fallible, single, thirtysomething author of a stream-of-consciousness diary which followed her doomed efforts to weigh less than nine stone and to achieve the elusive “inner poise” that would give her the edge at work and in love.
Helen Fielding’s creation started life as a newspaper column in The Independent. Bridget was (and still is) laugh-out-loud funny. There were two successful film spin-offs starring Renée Zellweger, and Fielding coined phrases that have passed into women’s idiolect – most notably, as Bridget’s friend Shazzer first tells it: “Emotional fuckwittage, which is spreading like wildfire among men over thirty.” The Diary’s sequel, The Edge of Reason (1999), ended on an upbeat note, with Bridget making plans to live with her boyfriend, the sensible barrister Mark Darcy. Then everything went quiet – until now.
In Fielding’s new instalment, Mad About the Boy, we find the diarist in north London, 2013. She’s 51, and is relying on familiar old friends, including Jude (“who now practically runs the City”) and Tom (“who is actually now quite a senior psychologist”) to get her through her “Darkness Tsunami”. It turns out Bridget and Darcy did get married, had two children, and were very happy – but he has been dead for five years: Fielding reveals the shocking details of Darcy’s demise after a long, moving build-up.
Bridget’s diary entries recall her happy marriage, piecing together for us the parts of her story we have missed: “I went out from that safe place into the world. It was like exploring the scary underwater ocean from our safe little submarine. And now ... everything is scary and nothing will be safe again.”
Bridget is trying to rebuild her life. She’s been fat – the weight piled on with the grief – but now she’s thin again. She tries, and fails, to fit in work meetings about her half-baked screenplay for an update of Hedda Gabler (relocated to the north London suburb of Queen’s Park) around the school run.
It is through Bridget’s re-entry into the world of dating and sex that Fielding’s book works best. There’s plenty of new material to draw on. As Talitha (60, but not looking it) tells a terrified Bridget: “Everything has changed since you were single. There was no texting. There were no emails. People spoke on telephones. Plus, young women are more sexually aggressive now, and men are naturally more lazy. You have to, at the very least, encourage.”
In an effort to “encourage”, Bridget starts dating a 29-year-old who has followed her on Twitter. It’s funny, and sweet, and a bit shocking and ends as well as could be expected.
Throughout, there are knowing nods to the earlier books, all part of the very welcome return of someone who feels like an old friend. Here is Bridget in a beauty salon: “Chardonnay said I should have a Brazilian because that’s what the young men expect these days.” The beautician is named for the wine that Bridget and friends used to drink by the oaked barrelful.
This isn’t a great work of literature. It’s more of an inviting comfort blanket for those many readers who loved Bridget before, who have grown up with her and are intrigued to find out what became of her. And its preoccupations, at heart, are middle-aged, just like our heroine. It’s reassuring to find that Bridget, in common with many of her original readers, may look older but hasn’t really changed.
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