Mother of invention
Suburban Bridget a tad sentimental but she still mixes idiocy and insight
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.
Bridget Jones Mad about the Boy By Helen Fielding Knopf Canada, 390 pages, $30