Mother of in­ven­tion

Sub­ur­ban Brid­get a tad sen­ti­men­tal but she still mixes id­iocy and insight

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ali­son Gill­mor

AL­CO­HOL units 3, calo­ries con­sumed 3,246, min­utes spent aim­lessly look­ing at pop cul­ture blogs 48, time spent wor­ry­ing about writ­ing re­view com­pared to time spent ac­tu­ally writ­ing re­view, ra­tio of 14:1, res­o­lu­tions made to ap­proach writ­ing re­view in calm, Zen­like man­ner 1, res­o­lu­tions kept 0.

Brid­get Jones is back. Bri­tish writer He­len Field­ing, who cre­ated a cul­tural icon with her 1996 break­out novel, Brid­get Jones’s Di­ary, re­vis­its her ir­re­sistibly hap­less hero­ine. Brid­get is now deal­ing with 21st-cen­tury con­fu­sion as well as the ups and downs of mid­dle age. Gaah, as Brid­get would say. Mr. Darcy is not back. This is sad be­cause he was rather dreamy and Colin Firth-like, but his ab­sence is nec­es­sary for the ad­vance­ment of the plot. Liv­ing in north Lon­don with her two small­ish chil­dren, Brid­get makes a dra­matic splash back into the dat­ing pool with 29-year-old Roxster. While sex-packed and fun, this episode is fraught with po­ten­tially tricky sit­u­a­tions, as when Brid­get has to jug­gle new per­sona as se­duc­tive woman of the world with house­hold chaos brought on by lice out­break at the chil­dren’s school. Of course, Brid­get can al­ways turn to stal­wart friends Talitha, Tom and Jude, though their ad­vice tends to be du­bi­ous. (De­spite a high-level fi­nance job in the city, Jude con­tin­ues to flail about like an adolescent in her ro­man­tic life. Cur­rently, she’s try­ing to tor­ment for­mer lover Vile Richard by fraud­u­lently lur­ing him on the Plenty of Fish dat­ing site.) Brid­get is also try­ing to sell a screen­play, re­quir­ing fre­quent phone calls with a pro­ducer who is al­ways just get­ting into a he­li­copter, or just catch­ing a flight for La­hore, or just call­ing from “a lux­ury in­dige­nous-style house­boat” on the Ir­rawaddy river. Mad about the Boy can’t match the comic per­fec­tion of the orig­i­nal Brid­get Jones book, in which loosey­goosey hi­lar­ity was com­ple­mented by the up­right struc­tural back­bone of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prej­u­dice. The 1999 fol­low-up, BBrid­get Jones: The Edge of Rea­son, wob­bled with an over­wrought sto­ry­line about drug smug­gling in AA­sia. This be­lated third in­stal­mentin has some se­quencesq that sim­ply don’t work, in­clud­ing sev­eral stum­bles into sen­ti­men­tal­i­tyit and a con­clu­sion that wouldn’tw be out of place in a bad Har­lequin.

Still, with her adorable mix of insight and id­iocy, Brid­get is an ap­peal­ing char­ac­ter. And Field­ing is a gifted comic writer, her ob­ser­va­tions on the ridicu­lous­ness of up­per-mid­dle-class life of­ten spot-on. Take Brid­get’s con­certed ef­fort to do the school run in the man­ner of Stella Mc­Cart­ney or Gwyneth Pal­trow. She fi­nally mas­ters the skinny jeans, bal­let flats and floaty scarf look only to see an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “Is the Skinny Jean Over?” in one of her anx­i­ety-pro­vok­ing women’s mags. Field­ing is killingly funny about al­pha school-mother Ni­col­lete, whom Brid­get tends to mis­ad­dress as Nicorette, and about all those over­par­ented mod­ern chil­dren called At­ti­cus and Eros and Th­elo­nious and Cle­mency. And the sex, of course, is of­ten com­i­cally dis­as­trous, hav­ing taken on new wrin­kles (so to speak) now that Brid­get is 51. Ku­dos to Field­ing for ag­ing Brid­get real­is­ti­cally. No ku­dos for the sec­tion of the book in which she loses weight with a dream-se­quence ease that’s de­cid­edly un-Brid­get-like. Field­ing is also deal­ing with up­dated tech­no­log­i­cal screw-ups, so that Brid­get’s for­mer an­swer­ing-ma­chine fi­as­cos have been re­placed by the per­ils of drunken tex­ting and a neu­rotic ob­ses­sion with her num­ber of Twit­ter fol­low­ers. A more time­less theme in­volves the joys and stresses of par­ent­ing, in par­tic­u­lar the warm, messy con­fu­sion of liv­ing with small kids. In typ­i­cal Jone­sian fash­ion, Brid­get sets up some imag­ined ideal — “large Ital­ian fam­ily hav­ing din­ner un­der a tree while chil­dren play” — only to un­der­cut it with the ev­ery­day catas­tro­phes of ac­tual do­mes­tic­ity.

Fi­nally, Brid­get’s rec­og­niz­able tone is back — self-dep­re­cat­ing and satir­i­cal, a breezy, ab­bre­vi­ated jum­ble of head­lines, acronyms, ALL CAPS and lis­ti­cles. This felt re­ally fresh back in 1996, but Field­ing’s pre­scient forms have since been taken up by the rest of us. (There’s this thing called blog­ging now.) All in all, Brid­get Jones fans will find a lot to like in Mad About the Boy, though some of that good­will might be squan­dered by the novel’s faintly ridicu­lous end­ing. This in­volves a hero so filled with der­ring-do and rugged man­li­ness that one sus­pects Field­ing is angling for Daniel Craig to be cast in the movie adap­ta­tion. (And who can blame her?) Winnipeg jour­nal­ist Ali­son Gill­mor has been known to do the school run

with a parka over her py­ja­mas.

ALISA CON­NAN PHOTO

Brid­get Jones Mad about the Boy By He­len Field­ing Knopf Canada, 390 pages, $30

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