Literary Review, November 2013
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
134 lbs (g), calories 2000 (vg), embarrassing sexual encounters while reading this book 0, hours of life lost reading this book 7, despair over state of British publishing – total
Bridget Jones is getting older. In the third volume of her diary, she is 51, the mother of two children and a widow. Who would have dreamed of that? It is a startling alteration in the fortunes of Helen Fielding’s chronically self-doubting heroine, who was played in two movie adaptations by Renee Zellweger. Surely no one could go through the loss of a spouse without becoming a great deal wiser than the carefree singleton so many young women identified with in the 1990s? The death of Jones’s husband’s in tragic circumstances could easily overshadow the novel, taking Fielding into uncharted territory. Killing off Mark Darcy, who famously fought with Daniel Cleaver for Jones’s affections in the earlier books, feels like a radical departure from a very successful formula.
So here is the introduction to one of Bridget’s diary entries in 2012, four years after Darcy’s death: ‘175lb, alcohol units 4 (nice), calories 2822 (but better eating real food in club than bits of old cheese and fish fingers at home), possibility of having or desire to have sex ever again 0’. Not much change there then: the old Bridget Jones is back, with a weight problem and a problematic sex life. Naturally this situation cannot be allowed to continue and Jones’s widowhood is soon enlivened by texting and excursions onto social networking sites. Despite all her anxieties about getting older, she promptly encounters a hot 29-year-old who styles himself @_Roxster on Twitter. This event prompts a familiar bout of soul-searching: ‘Pros of sleeping with Roxster 12, cons of sleeping with Roxster 3, percentage of time spent deciding whether or not to sleep with Roxster, preparing for possibility of sleeping with Roxster and imagining sleeping with Roxster compared with actual time it would probably take to sleep with Roxster 585%’.
It should by now be apparent that Mad About the Boy has exactly the same preoccupations as the earlier volumes of Jones’s diary. While the character always seemed young for her age, she did at least express some of the anxieties of her generation in comically magnified form. But the 50-something Jones seems to have learned nothing; without the financial worries which would be the main concern for most women in her situation, male attention is still what she craves most in life. Decades of world history seem to have passed her by, while the recent revival of feminism might as well have taken place in a parallel universe.
There are moments when Jones remembers that her husband is dead and has a stab at writing about the experience, but she still has the sensibility of a scatter-brained adolescent. The diary entry in which she recalls meeting Roxster in the flesh for the first time, experiencing such an attack of nerves that her mouth fills with vomit, made me wonder how she would react if something really dreadful happened to her. If Jones cannot cope with talking to a sentient adult in a bar, it is hard to imagine how she would survive not having enough money to feed the kids over a weekend. Or, ahem, becoming a widow.
Bridget Jones is an established and successful brand, but alert readers will quickly spot the book’s central flaw: a formula which more or less worked a decade-and-a-half ago now reads like an embarrassing parody of itself. Not far into the novel, Darcy’s death on a human rights mission in Darfur begins to seem like a device to allow Jones to throw herself back into the dating scene, but without any of the insight which comes with loss. Even worse is the degree of false consolation in the book: no matter how self-obsessed, unkind or ignorant the character reveals herself to be, men are still mad about her. As soon as Jones packs off the youthful Roxster to find someone closer to his own age, a cracking new piece of husband material heaves into view – and this one has been in the SAS!
I just hope for all our sakes that this one is made of more durable stuff than Mark Darcy. The prospect of Bridget Jones single again, mining the same old seam of self-deprecating solipsism, is more than anyone should have to bear.
Jonathan Cape £18.99