A V. Fine Mess

By Elizabeth Gleick, New York Times

WEIGHT (best not to mention in a national publication); number of cookies consumed while writing this review, 7 (oh dear!); time spent devising ways to refrain from going downstairs to kitchen for more cookies, 211 min. (oh dear oh dear!); alcohol units, 12 (this must stop); number of times paused to watch silly British quiz shows on telly, 1; number of E-mails sent, 17: to gossip with friends and loved ones, 16, to take care of legitimate profesional concerns, 1 (v. bad); cigarettes, 0 (v. good; but wait, I don't smoke, so deserve no credit). 

O.K., James Joyce it may not be, but show me the woman to whom this sort of stream-of-consciousness, self-assessing mental clutter is unfamiliar and I'll show you the person who will not think ''Bridget Jones's Diary'' is both completely hilarious and spot on. 

Since it was published in Britain in 1996, this book by a former journalist and now very rich person named Helen Fielding has sold some 900,000 copies in the United Kingdom alone and has been at the top of the best-seller lists for months. To Britons, the name Bridget Jones immediately conjures up a certain kind of single professional woman in her 30's, and if British readers are any example at all, terms like ''smug marrieds'' will soon be entering the popular American lexicon. Goodbye Rules girls; hello Singletons. 

The idea behind this novel, which originated as a newspaper column, is deceptively simple - so much so that Fielding has been the object of much I Could Have Written That and I Slept With Bridget Jones sniping in the gossipy British press. The book consists of diary entries from one year in Bridget's life, a year in which she vows to lose weight, stop smoking, get a grip on her drinking and generally develop ''inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend.'' Most entries begin with a rundown of how Bridget is getting on with her goals, usually followed by a little parenthetical wail: ''130 lbs. (terrifying slide into obesity - why? why?)'' 

''Bridget Jones's Diary'' does flirt with a plot of sorts, a ridiculous contraption involving Bridget's parents, who undergo a marital crisis, and a handsome eligible bachelor named - ''Pride and Prejudice'' alert, for those who can't see what's coming -- Mark Darcy. But mainly the book is a compilation of memorably silly moments in the life of a hapless Everywoman. 

Bridget goes out drinking with her friends, and they woozily conclude, ''Hurrah! Singletons should not have to explain themselves all the time but should have an accepted status - like geisha girls.'' She has an affair with a colleague, goes on demeaning dates, endures the insults of acquaintances who make biological-clock tick-tock noises at her. And through it all she remains somehow endearingly engaging, even though she displays absolutely no awareness of a world beyond herself. 

Here's Bridget trying to get dressed and ready for work: ''7:55 a.m. Open wardrobe. Stare at clothes. ...8:45 a.m. Start on black opaque tights. Pair 1 seems to have shrunk - crotch is three inches above knees. Get second pair on and find hole on back of leg. ...9:10 a.m. Suddenly realize hair is drying in weird shape.'' It takes her three hours and 35 minutes to get out the door. 

And here's Bridget reading self-help tips from a magazine on how to go to a fancy book party: ''Apparently Tina Brown of The New Yorker is brilliant at dealing with parties, gliding prettily from group to group, saying 'Martin Amis! Nelson Mandela! Richard Gere!,' '' Bridget writes. ''Wish to be like Tina Brown, though not, obviously, quite so hard-working.'' And, of course, a dinner party Bridget Jones-style ends in disaster: not with her guests exclaiming over that perfect dish of char-grilled tuna but with the famished diners tearing into hastily assembled omelettes while looking at the cookbook's pictures of the tuna that might have been. ''V. sad,'' Bridget notes.

It would be a shame to spend too much time searching for meaning in a book that's this much fun to zip through, but we're going to be hearing a lot about Bridget - and from Fielding -- in the coming months, so here goes. People will be passing around copies of ''Bridget Jones's Diary'' for a reason: it captures neatly the way modern women teeter between ''I am woman'' independence and a pathetic girlie desire to be all things to all men. Preparing for a date, Bridget flies into a frenzy of self-improvement, in which, after an exercise class, she ''cleaned the flat; filled the fridge, plucked my eyebrows, skimmed the papers and the 'Ultimate Sex Guide,' put the washing in and waxed my own legs, since it was too late to book an appointment. Ended up kneeling on a towel trying to pull off a wax strip firmly stuck to the back of my calf while watching 'Newsnight' in an effort to drum up some interesting opinions about things.'' 

Bridget knows there is something wrong with this picture, but as she tells her diary: ''I am a child of Cosmopolitan culture, have been traumatized by supermodels and too many quizzes and know that neither my personality nor my body is up to it if left to its own devices. I can't take the pressure.'' How v. true. But, fortunately, Bridget Jones also makes it v. funny.