Why there needed to be a fourth Bridget Jones  

Daisy Buchanan | The Pool – October 11, 2016

The timing of the release of Bridget Jones’s Baby is a little confusing. I’m an ardent fan of the Bridget books, and a great admirer of author Helen Fielding, but I was puzzled to hear that the new novel was coming out shortly after the release of the film – published three years after Fielding’s third Bridget book, Mad About The Boy, but set in a mysterious post-millennial period that took place before the last book. MATB, featuring a widowed Bridget raising two children, Billy and Mabel, had mixed reviews. I adored it, and found it as funny, moving and warm as the earlier titles, but as a fan, it left me with many questions. I desperately missed Mark Darcy, Bridget’s lovely Dad, and best friend Shazzer who had been dispatched to Silicon Valley. Marriages had failed, Daniel Cleaver had a serious drinking problem and the book was filled with a profound sadness. That  sadness was beautifully executed by Fielding, but it was still a bit too real for readers like me who fell in love with her earlier work, which demonstrated masterful social satire and comic genius.

The good news is that once you get past the “What” and the “Why?” of Bridget Jones’s Baby, the comic writing is dazzlingly good.
To be fair to Fielding, the diary is dedicated to Billy and presented as his origin story, a framing device which lets the novel slot neatly into the Bridget canon.

It starts with a despairing reference to “Mavis Endebury’s brunch style karaoke” and soars from that point. Admittedly, it’s a little clunky at the start, beginning with a fairly forced baby chat from desperate mum Pam, and a reminder that Bridget is perpetually single and alone (we learn that between The Edge Of Reason and now, Mark and Bridget got engaged, Daniel Cleaver made a flirty pass that was misconstrued by Mark at the engagement party, and Mark stormed off to marry, and then divorce “stick insect” Natasha).

Still Shazzer is back, although we’ve lost Jude to New York, “thin lipped” Julian Barnes is still turning up at publishing parties and the Smug Marrieds are out in force.
An early highlight happens when the awful Woney is telling Bridget that her fertility is finite, and Bridget thinks “For a second I had a vision of myself grabbing Woney by the ears and bellowing ‘Do you think it hasn’t crossed my mind?’” As an almost lifelong fan of the Bridget books, it feels like a glorious family reunion.

In the past, critics have hit out at Bridget and Fielding by claiming that our heroine is too insecure to display proper feminist values, as she’s obsessed with losing weight and finding a man. I’d dispute these claims all day long (and Fielding’s greatest skill is that she’s a deft observer of contradictory cultural mores, she hasn’t set out to write a role model into being). However, it’s refreshing that Bridget Jones’s Baby is ultimately all about the fragility of the male ego, and Mark’s fundamental insecurity. Either Mark or Daniel might be the father of Bridget’s child, and, as our heroine often observes, they handle this situation by behaving like bratty children themselves.

Whether it’s pregnancy or the reality of gaining some grown up perspective, we see Daniel for who he is for the first time.
He’s not a dashing, handsome cad who has a right to string Bridget along and cut ties when he feels like it. He’s a dilettante, a womaniser and a fundamentally tragic character that I ended up feeling desperately sorry for, although I laughed out loud at the cruel and eviscerating reviews of his first novel. Similarly Mark, while noble, good and kind, is far from perfect. In earlier books, we watched Bridget long for him and at times he seemed as distant and desirable as Heathcliff, glimpsed from an attic window on horseback. Now we learn that like Heathcliff he can be an emotionally constipated nightmare who is sometimes paralysed by his own inner poise. Superficially he seems to be in control, but Bridget is much wiser, and better at being happy. Bridget writes “I realise I’ve been seeing men as all powerful gods with the gift to decide whether I’m attractive or not, instead of human beings.” I might get this as a tattoo.

The pace of the book is dizzying, partly because Fielding’s gag rate is unparalleled.
She’s as consistently funny as PG Wodehouse. Like reading Wodeouse, it’s hard to mind that the plot contains few surprises because the characters are so easy to love and laugh at that it’s a privilege to be in their company. The Grafton Underwood elders form a glorious Greek chorus of disapproval and bewilderment. They’re perturbed about the baby’s possible parentage, but mainly preoccupied by a very funny B story about who will sit next to the Queen during a special luncheon.

Before I read this book, I wondered whether it was really necessary to squeeze anything more from Bridget’s story, or if there could possibly be anything left to tell.
This book is absolutely necessary. At a time when the world seems especially dark and difficult, and sometimes stacked against women, Bridget Jones’s Baby is both a longed for slice of escapism and a real inspiration. It’s a book about what women are capable of doing on their own, and how to recognise that we’re surrounded by sources of life changing love which aren’t necessarily romantic. Bridget learns the same lesson that most of us are working at. Living your best life isn’t about achieving certain goals, but about gaining perspective. This story is filled with kindness, joy and jokes that made me laugh out loud. It’s truly life enhancing.