Being a British woman and conforming spectacularly to stereotype, I like to moan. If I’m too hot, too cold, too hungry, too full, too tired, or too restless and you’re within a few metres of me then you’re likely going to know about it. If I don’t vocalise my displeasure then it will be written quite plainly in my expression. (If you get the chance to play cards with me then bet everything you have, because I have the world’s worst poker face.)
But I am not a permanent grump and I like to find redeeming features in even the most grump-inducing of situations. This morning, for instance, I arrived in London soggy, cold, and tired, but positively bounced into work after an impeccably dressed older gentleman (seriously, he looked like he should have been on The Sartorialist rather than on the tube) stopped to tell me that my shoes were pretty as he hopped off at Victoria. (They are pretty, they’re River Island loafers that are a definite design nod to Russell and Bromley, but cost me £15 rather than £150. Winning.)
So when I say that I was disappointed by the new Bridget Jones’s Diary, you will have to trust me that I tried to find a glimmer of hope or a tiny nugget of redemption.
In fairness, Helen Fielding was always going to have her work cut out. I did a degree in English Literature and I recently chased a friend around Tesco for not knowing who F. Scott Fitzgerald was. This month, other than Mad About the Boy, I’ve read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine. I’m Gemma and I’m a literature snob. But that was not what stacked the odds against Ms Fielding. The problem was how much I love the first two Bridget books.
That’s right, you heard me. I’m Gemma and I’m a literature snob and I love Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’m not even embarrassed. It’s ‘chick lit’ and proud of it to boot. And if I were BJD then I’d be proud too. Because it’s a shining beacon of hope to a genre sadly and ironically in need of the kind of makeover which it likes to describe. Other ‘chick lit’ books can look up to BJD, much in the way normal human beings can look up to Jess Ennis or Stephen Fry, and think, yes, I can be better. Sure, there’s a woman, and sure, she’s after a man, but in the first two of the Bridget series, there’s intelligence, satire, a whole heap of humour, and a blessed lack of obligatory and entirely gratuitous poorly written sex scene.
Things have, sadly, changed. There might be no Mark Darcy in Mad About the Boy (fans have been pretty peeved to say the least; one chased Ms Fielding down the street screaming “You killed Colin Firth!”) but never fear, he has been replaced… by sex. Bridget’s love interest for the majority of the book is a charming albeit two dimensional younger man who is seemingly only interested in sex, food, Twitter, and Bridget. Fielding justified killing off Darcy by saying she wanted perpetual Singleton Bridget to have to deal with parenthood alone and challenge stereotypes as a single woman “of a certain age”. The obvious stereotype not so much ‘challenged’ as it is neatly and expertly assassinated is that a 51 year old woman is ‘past it’ or uninterested in sex. There was an eyebrow raising amount of action described considering that in her thirties Miss Jones preferred saying it with a well timed ellipsis than a (please forgive me) blow by blow account.
I’m not saying that Mad About the Boy is the next 50 Shades of Grey with Bridget struggling to put together S&M swingers nights for the Smug Marrieds and Singletons rather than dinner parties, and realising at the last moment that she can’t find the gimp masks. No. It’s all very happy and vanilla – but it’s just a bit alarming after two books and seventeen years of not discussing her sexual encounters beyond the fact that they occurred. Fictional characters in our cultural consciousness do not tend to surprise us, and just as it would be odd for James Bond to be two hours late to work because he couldn’t find a clean shirt, it was surprising to find Bridget using her bed for an activity other than hangover recovery. My eyebrows were threatening to vanish into my hairline in places. And before anyone accuses me of ageism, it wasn’t the fact that Bridget is now in her fifties which made it uncomfortable (hurrah for sexually liberated women of all ages!), it was the fact that I couldn’t imagine Renée Zellweger saying any of it in her attempt at a British accent.
I actually had a bad feeling about the third installment, Mad About the Boy, as soon as I heard the title. Within the first few pages of the book, we are introduced to Bridget’s “toy boy”. I hoped from the bottom of my feminist heart that this was not the boy we were supposed to be mad about (unless we were furious with as opposed to enraptured). I tried with hindsight to persuade myself that the ‘boy’ in question was Billy, Bridget’s son by dead husband Mark Darcy, but seeing as they also had a daughter before his premature demise it would be a bit harsh of Bridget to be only mad about one child. If Mabel (yeah, Mark and Bridget inexplicably named their daughter Mabel, perhaps after one of Pam and Una’s deceased friends?) did not feature, then the book could be a moving story of how a 51 year old widow attempts to de-“Born-Again-Virgin”-ise herself and then discovers that however much she enjoys getting off with younger men the priority is, and always will be, Billy. (But Mabel kind of ruins that reading of the title.)
To an extent, that is what happens, but Bridget also manages to find herself Mark mark 2 in the process. And it was screamingly obvious that he was going to be Mark mark 2 from the moment he was introduced. Not because he seemed like the perfect man, but because he followed the chick lit rules of ‘serious love interest’ which younger Bridget mapped out for us: he seemed a bit rude but was obviously just using brusqueness to deal with deep inner angst and would eventually announce his love for our heroine before jumping into bed with her for the obligatory sex scene and ending up living together happily ever after.
Basically, Helen Fielding made her own bed and had to lie in it. The first two Bridget books were so successful that the third seems as tired as poor Bridget is after a decade of cheap imitations.
On a more positive note, as ever with Fielding the sisterhood remains strong. Female neighbours, school mums, and familiar girl friends all end up brightening the gloom of Bridget’s grief as well as brightening the book. Plus, I’m pretty sure Mark Darcy does feature… in the guise of an owl. (I mean, feel free to disagree with me, but I really think we’re supposed to wonder if Darcy’s spirit has somehow taken residence in this owl.) So if anyone fancied making a third movie it could still have Colin Firth in it, so long as he was prepared to say nothing other than “twit… terwooo”. And if they dressed him up in a giant owl costume I’m sure saying “twit” over and over wouldn’t seem inappropriate.