We were first introduced to Bridget Jones’ Diary in 1997. Readers kept it on the New York Times bestseller list for over six months. We were utterly addicted to this new confessional literary genre author Helen Fielding had created—the unguarded, neurotic ramblings of a London singleton in search of love—and her obsession with Jane Austen’s romantic hero Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, (admittedly Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC/A&E mini-series). We devoured the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 1999, and the subsequent movies with an all-star cast of Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and, yes, Colin Firth as dishy, love-interest Mark Darcy. Now 14 years later, Fielding has resurrected her most popular character …
STOP. If you haven’t heard about the big, gigantic, SPOILER in her new novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy—DO NOT PROCEED. This is your chance to bail now. Save yourself the trouble and time of ranting at me in some long-winded diatribe. You have been given due notice. But, please do come back here and let’s compare notes, once you have read the book, of course.
However, if you have heard the big news about this third book in the series, then carry on. My little review won’t ruin anything for you that has not already been broadcast worldwide. Also, a slight warning as to the sailor-like language sprinkled throughout that we have come to expect from Bridget and friends. (My apologies to sailors everywhere who do not swear or speak in a vulgar manner. Terrible, terrible stereotype. I know.) Though jarring, cringe-worthy really, if any of my American friends were to spew such vulgarity, coming from Bridget, any Brit really, this American reviewer tends to give a pass. Maybe it’s the charming British accent? Or the Renee Zellweger narrative I hear in my head?
Channeling my inner-Bridget’s up to the minute, daily diary-style format, the following is an account of my ponderings on Fielding’s latest offering:
SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT
Monday 30 September 2013
Number of times I said “WHAT?” when The Today Show announced author Helen Fielding killed off Mark Darcy 20, number of negative thoughts 1000, number of Facebook posts and threads I mentioned this spoiler 9, hours it took me to overcome my shock of Mark’s death 26, days I had to wait after this bombshell until my advanced copy was released from the publisher 10, days I had to wait until my copy was forwarded on from Austenprose blog mistress 2, hours I had to wait to get a moment to myself from delivery of said book until I could crack it open 10, number of days it took me to actually finish because of the rude intrusions of real life 3.
7:17 a.m. Breaking news on The Today Show. “Hearts are breaking wide open around the world. Bridget Jones is back. Minus Mr. Darcy.” What? What?! No Mark Darcy! My dear husband tried to offer his condolences by pointing out the British are not afraid of killing off their favorites in their television programs, reminding me of the recent Downton Abbey debacle of doing in yummy male lead, and all-around good guy, Matthew Crawley, and even many of my favorites from MI-5, aka in Great Britain as Spooks. (Not helpful.) Still, how can this be? Is this a prank? Pfffffft. What’s the point? Who wants to read about Bridget Jones if there’s no Mark Darcy?
7:27 a.m. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are all abuzz with devastating news. I knew the book had been embargoed to all advanced copies for reviews. Was this the reason? Maybe so, and yet, somehow a copy must have slipped out, and the publisher must have said, “Go ahead, leak the bloody spoiler,” says my wildly, active imagination. Amidst the U.S. economy being held hostage by its own government, earthquakes, typhoons, Iran’s nuclear program talks, Mark Darcy’s death has pushed aside Miley Cyrus’s “strategic hot mess.” Or, was so-called leak possibly part of cleverly choreographed marketing scheme? Hmmm…? On to reading the book…
Friday 11 October 2013
Number of times nits are mentioned 43 (plus or minus), number of times I scratched my own head after reading about nits 43 (plus or minus), number of times I scratched my head at the mention of some clearly British word or product like: spag bog and Fairy Liquid 2, number of barn owl sightings 2, number of times I cried at the end of barn owl scenes 2, number of times I wept over Bridget’s memories of Mark 3, number of times I laughed out loud 78, number of pages I giggled at the repeated mention of the f-word (and I mean fart) 3 ½, number of pages until the use of the other f-word is used (and I mean “fuckwit”) 12, number of times used thereafter 278 (plus or minus), number of Jane Austen references 2 (maybe 3), number of days since I finished reading it (yet am still mulling over the details) 5.
When last we read about Bridget Jones it was the year 2000, and at the close of The Edge of Reason, Mark Darcy was arranging his caseload in America and, or Thailand, with Bridget in tow. Over a decade later, the world has changed. Major life changes. 9-11. Technology. The Internet. Bridget and Mark now have two children.
Mad About the Boy opens with Bridget in a quandary about her friend’s 60th birthday party. Should she, or should she not, invite her boy toy Roxster, who happens to be celebrating his 30th birthday on the same night? Then it proceeds right into a calamitous episode of nits (head lice), vomit and diarrhea. She must handle it all alone, if we are to believe the spoilers, without Mark. For the next 20-odd pages all the usual Bridget chatter about her boy toy, and bumbling about as a single mother, without one mention of Mark. I quite think if I had not heard Fielding had killed off Mark prior to this reading, I would have been Googling to see if I had missed a Book 3 and was, in fact, reading Book 4. And then on page 26, there it was:
Mark Darcy 1956-2008
Told from Bridget’s perspective, with long chunks of her irreverent monologue, her often minute by minute running commentary, her texting conversations, and now with Twitter, her attempt to get current, she tweets:
Thursday 12 July 2012, 155 lbs, pounds lost 20, pages of screenplay written 10, Twitter followers 0. <@DalaiLama Just as a snake sheds its skin, so we must shed our past again and again.>
“You see? The Dalai Lama and I are one cyber-mind. I am shedding my fat like a snake.” (p. 55)
So this is Bridget a decade and a half later. Widowed, 51-year-old, cheeky single mother of two small children, attempting to write a screenplay and still struggling with how she fits into the world—a tech-savvy world. Forlorn, without her rock Mark Darcy. She is still friends with the bawdy cast we love and adore: Talitha, Jude, Tom and Magda, and as they are all now deeply entrenched in that other vulgar phrase “middle age,” are determined to get rid of Bridget’s lonely, “Born-Again Virgin” status.
“I’ve had enough of this! What do you mean ‘middle-aged’? In Jane Austen’s day, we’d all be dead by now. We’re going to live to be a hundred. It’s not the middle of our lives. Oh. Yes. Well, actually it is the middle.” (p. 67)
Yet, she is determined to find her new normal. Mark wouldn’t want her to be alone and miserable.
And just like that, she decides to get back out there. After all, it has been four and a half years since she has even kissed a man. But, like most times when you are trying something new, or rather something you have done before but not in a very, long time, and trying to be 30, when you are in fact 51, events do not always turn out as you hoped.
“We all became crestfallen, our confidence collapsing like a house of cards. ‘Oh God. Do we just look like an ensemble of elderly transvestites?’ said Tom.
‘It’s happened, just as I always feared,’ I said. ‘We’ve ended up as tragic old fools convincing ourselves the vicar is in love with us because he’s mentioned his organ.’ (p. 80)
However, Bridget does find love and affection via Twitter. This story-line is chock full of tender, LOL, randy moments, and amusing texting dialogue as she enjoys re-discovering her sensuality with her 30-year-old boy toy, who really does fancy her. But Bridget is still Bridget—sure to cock something up as she fumbles about and never showing herself to her best, especially in front of smug marrieds, potential career makers and her son’s chess/music/sports department teacher Mr. Wallaker. Bridget describes him as “fit, tall, slightly younger than me, crop-haired, rather like Daniel Craig in appearance.” (p. 5). Surely this must be Fielding’s nod to who should play the new teacher in the future movie? Yes, puleez.
At the moment when you think you can’t take one more self-destructive, idiotic, nitwit antic, Bridget takes a breath, adjusts her priorities and performs a few selfless acts—that end up turning things around. I think that’s what Bridget would call Karma. And what would a series be (that began with what Fielding confesses was stolen from the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice), without a romantic, happily ever after? Bridget-style, of course.
“He took a step closer. The air was heavy with jasmine, roses. I breathed unsteadily. It felt as though we were being drawn together by the moon. He reached out, like I was a child, or a Bambi or something, and touched my hair. ‘There aren’t any nits in here, are there?’ he said.” (p. 321-322)
And that’s not even with the loveable Daniel Cleaver, who, yes, is in this book as… wait for it… the children’s godfather!
So, let me be the one to say, although I loved Bridget with Mark Darcy, (her grounded, stabilizing life-force, her Yin to his Yang), I do accept that horrible, tragic things do happen in real life. Fielding took a brave leap (others might say foolish) in killing this beloved character off. Believe me. Those first 26 hours after I learned of his death I was as dazed as Jones in a vodka induced stupor. Fielding could have played it safe. But where would she have gone with that? Everyday real-life women get up, face the day, and soldier on. If our Bridget can do it… you can too. Stay calm and carry on without Mark Darcy. Mad About the Boy is a delicious, boisterous, raucous triumph championing a re-awakening of life. Read the book. As in real life, you’d hate to miss out. <@Dalai Lama An open heart is an open mind.>
5 out of 5 Stars
P.S. I was going to knock off ½ a star for killing Mark, but then reminded self it would have been a predictable, pointless, fuckwit move.
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding
Alfred A. Knopf (2013)
Hardcover (400) pages
Cover image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf © 2013; text Christina Boyd © 2013, Austenprose.com