Mad About The Boy: Bridget gets back in the saddle

Ignore the pompous critics; the new Bridget Jones romp is a spiky, silly satire about being middle-aged and middle-class.

Zoe Apostolides

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Bridget is back, and there’s been an awful lot of nitpicking. That, in case you’ve not read the new book, was a little joke, because Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding’s latest instalment in the saga of the granny pant-wearing heroine – contains a healthy smattering of head lice, toilet humour, and bed-wetting.

By and large, most critics aren’t getting on board with the fact that the Bridget Jones of this new book spends much of the day totting up Twitter followers, tallying consumed fish fingers and grappling with what she refuses to refer to as ‘middle age’. For many, it seems, her voice just isn’t as credible as it once was. ‘I hardly believed a word of it’, said the Sunday Times’ Christina Patterson. ‘I didn’t believe that a 51-year-old woman would… spend meetings about her own film script sending saucy texts.’ But realism is hardly the point. The novels have always been fun, frivolous and in need of suspending one’s disbelief. Mad About The Boy is no exception, and Bridget feels as fresh in 2013 as she did in 1996.

What is otherwise a desperately sad situation for Jones is propelled by that wry, observational humour Fielding does so well. Darcy, who she met, fell in love with and then married in the previous books, is dead, and Bridget is left with two young children, a boxful of memories, and friends desperate to sling her back into the saddle. Unlike the first two novels, there is more depth to Bridget’s emotions, and while Fielding doesn’t pile on the tear-jerkers, there are moments of genuine, never-before-witnessed pathos. But don’t worry, Bridget is still getting up to plenty of antics: juggling writing a screenplay, the school run and a cheery toyboy lover, as well as finding time to have Botox injections and regular summits with her oh-so-cosmopolitan friends.

Fielding’s knack for conveying significance through names and objects is as razor sharp as ever. Instead of Silk Cut and Chardonnay, Bridget’s life is one of delicatessens, Jo Malone candles, Aqua Zumba, children with names like Eros and Atticus, and an irrational fear of the night bus. Once-glamorous, smug married friends are now left with the knowledge that they’ll be ‘staring at each other across their Conran-shop 70s-style table for the next 30 years’. Immediately identifiable Tiger Mum characters are gleefully documented: email threads from the acutely superficial Alpha Parent Nicolette, or ‘Nicorette’ as Bridget calls her, are pitch-perfect.

One major, intentional difference, however, is Bridget’s attitude to sex. As a society, we’ve been flung into constant discussion not just about our love lives but about the nitty gritty, the raw details, the sex in a box on live TV, the twerking. Bridget’s no exception to this, and although there were ‘shags’ and pregnancy scares in the first two books, here’s she’s much more graphic and entries such as ‘cannot simply lie here all afternoon MASTURBATING’ are fairly common. Amid the Fifty Shades of Grey-esque descriptions of Bridget’s flings, one pines for the simple, snow-covered snog in the square which was the erotic apex of Bridget Jones’ Diary.

For literary inspiration, Fielding has once again delved into Jane Austen. In 1871, over 100 years after she’d written it, Austen’s first full novella, Lady Susan, was published. It’s a wonderful, dry tale detailing the life of the eponymous heroine: a fantastically merry widow who dates younger men and thoroughly unnerves her fragile daughter in the process. If Helen Fielding imagined Jones first as Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet, then as Persuasion’s Anne Elliot, Mad About The Boy’s older, wiser, funnier Bridget is Lady Susan – though, perhaps, less spiky. Although it’s certainly different, to dislike this Bridget Jones is to dislike them all. Even without the facial injections, Bridge, you’ve withstood the test of time.

Zoe Apostolides is a journalist based in London.

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, by Helen Fielding, is published by Jonathan Cape. (Order this book from Amazon (UK).)

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