There’s that special kind of resentment that’s bred by the neglect or outright destruction of something you once loved by its own creator. And, in the case of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, the unfortunate added blow of proving the haters right. And they weren’t always. Those who had never bothered to read the original Bridget Jones’s Diary would have had you believe that it was a worthless piece of popular writing, just because the main character was a woman with a lot of flaws or because it ended in a kiss or because it could be easily read in one afternoon. But it became a phenomenon for a reason. Bridget was a heroine like we hadn’t seen before. She wasn’t like so many others, who are practically perfect aside from their lack of a man, a situation that’s tidily wrapped up by the last page; or shrinking violets who let their insecurities rule their lives. We didn’t identify with Bridget because she meticulously monitored (and bemoaned) her fluctuating weight. We identified with her because she was also a staunch friend, a loving daughter, and perfectly capable of dropping even hot piece Daniel Cleaver like a hot potato when he treated her badly.
Damn, England, what happened?
In college, I felt so tied to Bridget and her friends that I’d return to the first book every summer break and even built a semester’s worth of Independent Study credits around Helen Fielding’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice. And it is, fundamentally, a thematically faithful reboot. Elizabeth Bennett worshipers can be tempted to put her on too high a pedestal and forget all about her shortcomings. Sure, she’s the Bennett sister you’d most want to hang with, but Darcy’s sensibilities are initially offended by her impudent behavior. They are also, ultimately, what draw him to her.
And it’s the same with Mark and Bridget. Colin Firth was the only choice to play “Top Barrister” Mark Darcy in the movies not just because Mark’s character was based on his own interpretation of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC miniseries (meta, meta, meta, metaaaa), but because he – in many cases, without words – portrayed Mark’s helpless attraction to Bridget’s big mouth and big heart. She was fun; she was unreserved. She represented qualities that didn’t seem to be valued much in his profession or his picture-perfect, posh family. In other words, we bought it.
Mad About the Boy is such a shameful rewrite of Bridget’s history; I often caught myself scowling while I read it on the train. (The better to fit in with my fellow morning commuters.) And what potential it had. As far as I’m concerned, Fielding had a duty to write a laugh-out-loud book about a female protagonist who’s in her 50s and fumbling realistically in a new stage of her life. I’m 30 and I hardly ever feel like I know what I’m doing. And I doubt that will change much in 20 years. Mid-life crisis Bridget is my future, or at least more likely than the standard Earth Mother or disenchanted adulteress. There is a gaping space for her in popular literature; and when I first heard about the sequel, I secretly hoped for a Bridget story so irresistible that the gang would come back together for movie #3.
Instead, she MURDERED Mark Darcy. And everything went to shit. What was the point of spending two books reinforcing Mark and Bridget’s soulmate status and then tearing the whole thing down? God help us all if 50-year-old women are only interesting when they’re having flirty text conversations about farts (no, really) with jailbait fuck-buddies and trying desperately to hide their hangovers from their children. If Fielding wanted to write a book about a single woman of a certain age, why not just make a new one up? You can do that, you know. And she may as well have, because I didn’t recognize this Bridget at all. The Bridge I knew was well-intentioned, but clumsy. This one is flighty and obsessed. When she notices her children at all, she’s resenting them for throwing the babysitter wrench into her social plans. She’s now a screenwriter, which I would have bought if she’s been writing a project at all similar to her (it seems) life-full of personal diaries. But no no, instead, Bridget is writing an adaptation of Hedda Gabler. Impressive, right? It would be, if for 75% of the book, she didn’t think that the original was written by Anton Chekov. (“Oh, fuck. Just googled Hedda Gabbler and it IS by Henrik Ibsen and spelt with one b…”) Her dad is dead, so she’s now free to either ignore or make fun of her mother. (“She started to gabble, as she always does when I say I have to go.”) Her once cute and sassy friends are now depressing; no one has anything better to talk about than the Match.com date who wants to pee on her. And why exile Shazzer to LA? Because if she were there, she’d tell everyone to get their fucking lives the fuck together right the fuck now and there’d be no book to read.
We get reminiscences of Mark and Bridget’s life together before emotional terrorist Helen Fielding killed him with a road-side bomb. They were happy, and Bridget felt understandably lost after his death. At the same time, the years she got to spend with someone who encouraged her to feel confident and loved obviously meant nothing. I was under the impression that being with Mark would make Bridget BETTER (and vice versa), but she emerged from that relationship as a Real Housewife of Great Britain. Killing Darcy was bad, but this is like doing the Cha-Cha Slide on his grave.
Overall, the book is schizophrenic and aimless. Is it about Bridget grieving for Mark? It should have been. The only time my emotions were remotely stirred by this book was when Bridget wrote a cathartic letter to her dead husband. (“How is Billy ever going to understand how to be a man without his father? And Mabel? They don’t have a dad. They don’t know you.”) Is it about her “getting her groove back,” if you’ll forgive me? Most of the pages are dedicated to her psuedo-relationship with a 30-year-old she met on Twitter, and allowing his texting frequency to dictate her self-worth. (Please don’t get me started on Fielding’s complete ignorance of Twitter – how does Bridget amass hundreds of followers in days despite never hashtagging anything or following anyone and refusing to replace the egg-y avatar? #nerdrage) It’s definitely not about her children, who are just props and a device to put Bridget in the path of obnoxiously perfect classroom moms who, again, make her feel inadequate. (It’s a good thing that more time isn’t devoted to them, as I’m not sure the author has ever met a child. “Was you born in de Victorian Times?” Bridget’s five-year-old, asks her. Who. Talks. Like. This.) The screenwriting subplot is befuddling. Daniel Cleaver shows up (hurray!) as the kids’ godfather and now a close compatriot of the Darcy family. It would have been nice to see more of him, especially with the history that he has with Bridget as a love interest and a friend, but Fielding lands him in rehab at the end of the book with no closure in sight.
The situation with the endgame love interest is bewildering. Mr. Wallaker (described lazily as “Daniel Craig”) is a gym teacher or some such nonsense at the kids’ school who treats Bridget like an actual insect. He sneers continuously at her (judging her clothes, her driving, her parenting) right up until they moment he inexplicably kisses her. She’s so desperate for approval from everyone and anyone. I just want to reach into this book and SHAKE HER. Darcy was reserved, but open-minded. Mr. Wallaker is just downright mean, and it’s endlessly depressing that Bridget is so keen to be with him now mainly because she just wants someone to tell her what to DO.
We deserve better than this. BRIDGET deserves better. Did anyone else brave Mad About the Boy? I’m dying to know what you thought.