Bridget Jones is back, with a thud and without Mark Darcy

Apoorva Dutt | Firstpost - October 31, 2013

Back in the 15th century, English morality plays introduced the character of Everyman, an average dude who was meant to represent literally every man. It took till the 20th century to come up with a female equivalent and when she surfaced, it was in a genre that was very unlike the morality play even though it too dealt with ideals.

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones is one woman that every woman can identify with, it seems. Fielding took everything embarrassing about the inner lives of women – obsessive calorie-counting, the fear of being alone forever, having a drink too many sometimes, making asses of ourselves at work – and made it endearing and humorous. Bridget’s story reassured us that no matter how messy our singleton lives were, we would find someone who would tell us “I like you – just the way you are,” and he’d be as delicious as Mark Darcy.

At the end of the second book, Bridget Jones had, after much tumult involving an emotiona f*ckwit and a Thai prison, finally found a happy ending with Darcy. As chicklit goes, our heroine had reached the end of her road.

What more was there to say about her?

Apparently, quite a bit. Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, picks up some 15 years later. In the interim, Bridget has gotten married, had two children, and been widowed. Yes, much to the dismay of fans all around the world, Mark Darcy is dead.

In an ending befitting a modern Austenian hero, he died tragically in the Sudan while negotiating for the release of hostages. Howls of “How could you do this Helen?!” aside, it makes sense that Fielding got rid of Darcy. Bridget wouldn’t be Bridget if she wasn’t looking for love. A divorce would just not befit a sensible character like Darcy. So he had to die. (Fingers crossed Darcy appears in the eventual movie version in flashbacks.)

Mad About the Boy
opens four and a half years after his death, when Bridget is ready to make tentative steps into normalcy. She’s still good ole Bridget – busy anguishing over her weight, age and now, Twitter followers. She hates being called middle-aged, and is horrified by the rolls of fat that have appeared since childbirth. “Because of my age, my entire middle section has refused to go back like it was and all my intestines are flobbering about, uncontained. No wonder they are hanging over my black sweat pants like porridge,” she moans in one diary entry.

Bridget joins a weight loss program, loses weight and buys better clothes, under her friends’ close supervision. “With a slip, you can show off your arms and legs and décolletage, which are always the last to go, but keep the central area — which we might want to gloss over — glossed over,” one advises when Bridget panics about being naked. (By the way, Bridget’s gay friend Tom is now obsessed with Gwyneth Paltrow and remains endlessly hilarious. Is it too much to expect a Tom’s Diary?)

All this is, predictably, to prime Bridget for her manhunt. But at 51, it turns out to be even more complicated than when she was a 30-something singleton.

In the earlier Bridget Jones books, there were two men vying for her attention: Mark Darcy – good, dependable, and somehow still hot as hell – and Daniel Cleaver – irresponsible, charming, commitment-phobic “f*ckwit”, to quote Bridget and her friends. In the new book, Daniel is still around, but he’s not one of the three men pursuing Bridget.

One is a leather-clad clubber who rejects Bridget conclusively when she tells him she hasn’t had sex in four and a half years. Bridget doesn’t help her case with him when, as part of a pre-coital conversation, she asks if he would please call her back and meet her in case they do have sex.

Bachelor number two is Roxster, a 30-something whom Bridget adores. However, she worries that he might resent being deployed as her “anti-aging device.”

The third is a parody of a Mills & Boons Mr. Right – a wounded war hero with a kind heart who is terribly mean to Bridget for over 300 pages before abruptly kissing her.

I’ll let you guess with whom she ends up.

The romance in the new book works when Fielding writes about the effortless chemistry between Roxster and Bridget. It’s not about making any larger statement about older women and younger men; Roxster and Bridget just get on really well. Their conversations are humorous, and bits like when Bridget is waiting for a text reply are both familiar and hilarious: “Texts from Roxster: 0. Times checked phone for text from Roxster: 4,287.” When the reality of their age gap sets in, there is a sense of real loss. Of course, it isn’t long before the impossibly awesome Mr. Right appears to pick up the pieces.

Bridget is still goofy and Fielding still has her trademark razor-sharp insight packaged with an even sharper sense of humour. But the storytelling stumbles repeatedly in Mad About The Boy. Darcy pops in and out like Casper the friendly ghost and he’s too obvious a device. The memories of her dead husband never seem to impact Bridget beyond that moment in the plot that needs a touch of melodrama. The children also dart in and out of the narrative like cuckoo clock birds.

One of the brighter moments of the novel is when Bridget’s mother – a force of nature, as fans will remember from the earlier books – finally breaks out of her “Keep Buggering On” facade and admits to her daughter that she misses her own deceased husband. They hug and cry about their loneliness (“It was the first time I’d actually felt Mum’s bouffe,” relates Bridget). The evolution of the mother and daughter relationship is one point where Fielding gets it exactly right without becoming maudlin.

It’s a good ending to Bridget Jones’ life as we know it. We know we’re leaving her happier and at peace. But there is something melancholic about the book; it’s shadowed by age, death, addiction and compromise. When Bridget visits Daniel in rehab (he’s now an alcoholic), she mulls over how as you get older, you realise that you just have to accept people the way they are. This acceptance of life is a far cry from the sense of optimisim that the younger Bridget had. But that’s just the reality of her life. However, what kept all of us hooked on Bridget was Fielding’s ability to seem realistic while spinning a modern fairy tale. With Mad About The Boy, those dreams are over and Bridget Jones has landed upon real life, with an uncomfortable thud.