Fielding is older, wiser,
so is Bridget Jones
Kim Hjelmgaard |
USA TODAY - October 15, 2013
woman who outlined the singleton lifestyle has much to say about raising
children, body image and technology.
© Alisa Connan
— British author Helen Fielding’s favorite color is blue.
Do you need to know that? Not really. Well, maybe.
“I once asked a bunch of Tory (British Conservative Party) politicians
what their favorite fish was,” Fielding tells USA TODAY as Bridget
Jones: Mad About the Boy (Knopf), the third novel in her
wildly popular series, goes on sale Tuesday. “One said ‘shark.’
These kinds of questions can be very revealing.”
Blue is relevant/revealing for two reasons:
Mad About the Boy departs from series type and is just as much a
“Sad About the Boy” sort of affair;
In The Edge of Reason — the second
book in this global publishing phenomenon — budding journalist Bridget
interviews Pride and Prejudice star Colin Firth. And
Bridget, star-struck, messy, amateurish, scatterbrained, yet lovable all
the same, opens her serious interview with the suave heartthrob Firth
(who ironically would end up playing the Mark Darcy character in the Bridget
Jones movies) with a really hard, big-league journalism question:
“What’s your favorite color?”
But that was then and this is now. At 55, Fielding, and her neurotic,
awkward, calorie-counting diarist Bridget (now 51), have branched out.
It has been nearly 14 years since The Edge of Reason was
published in the United States, and almost 16 years since we were
introduced to the 30-something singleton in Bridget Jones’s
14 years since the last ‘Bridget Jones’ book.
older and this character is older and I wanted to write about real
things and how they co-exist,” Fielding says. “It would have been
easier to just carry on doing the same thing.”
At first blush, the writer many women say expertly pinpointed the
anxieties and pressures facing single women in their 30s comes across as
anything but Bridget-like. Sartorially, it’s all tasteful,
expensive-looking neutrals. Nothing seems ill-fitted, the hair is not
“all over the place” but rather an attractive “honey-gold,” as Vogue magazine
put it in a recent profile.
No food stains are in evidence, or at least they are well-hidden. If
there are cigarettes and wine nearby, they, too, have been stashed well
away from the elegant, Georgian building in London’s Fitzroy Square
that Fielding and her various minders have taken over for the day to
promote the new book.
“When I was in my 20s I couldn’t imagine that life would still be
going on in my 40s or older. But it is. Women that I see around me are
still vulnerable,” Fielding says, arguing that it is this
vulnerability that accounts for the enduring appeal of her
weight-obsessed, unlucky-in-love, comedic creation.
“One of the moments that most struck me early on with the reaction to
Bridget was when I was in Japan and a very glamorous and thin and
successful news anchor came up to me and said she identified with
Bridget’s weight-loss problems, and I thought: ‘There is something
very deep about how you are expected to be and how you actually are.’
“Of course, it’s even more confusing for women now,” Fielding
says. “The inundation of images of perfection and ideas about how you
are supposed to be as a woman have increased hugely since I first
started writing about singletons.”
Singletons vs. Smug Marrieds. These two terms, and gulf between the two,
are the laurels on which Bridget Jones has been resting for over a
decade now. “Rather embarrassingly I used to boast about having
invented the term ‘singleton,’ but then I discovered it was (British
author) P.G. Wodehouse,” Fielding says.
Several million copies of her books later, no one appears to have
It’s tempting to conclude that this may be in part because the public
checks and balances of social media were not fully there to weed it out
for her. The Internet and its application to the dating game is a
subject that is writ large in the pages of Mad About the Boy,
but Fielding admits to an ambivalence about how to apply it in her own
“I did do it (Twitter) for a while using the @bridgetjoneshf name. I
even made ones for Darcy and (Bridget’s flirty ex-boss) Daniel but it
got really complicated, I was interested initially, but I got too
obsessive and it’s a disaster if you try to write at the same time,”
“Everyone is so busy these days. Too busy. And technology is part of
this sense that you should be all these things, do all these things,
answer all these things.”
There has been no activity on the @bridgetjoneshf handle since February.
Fielding has a warm and confiding tone to her manner. This may be in
part to do with her roots in Britain’s northern county of Yorkshire, a
place where two grown men can call each other “love” without anyone
batting an eyelid.
With the new book, though, critics have so far not been overly kind. Mad
About the Boy was published in the U.K. on Oct. 10, and initial
reviews were full of phrases such as “tone is all wrong” (Telegraph),
“new sentimentality” (Guardian) and “pile-up of clichés”
Fielding mentions that she is not, and never has been, Bridget.
(Photo: BEN STANSALL AFP/Getty Images)
does not appear to be hurting sales, however. The book is near the top
of the best-seller list on Amazon’s U.K. website. U.S. reviewers may
be kinder. (People magazine gives the novel 4 stars; USA
TODAY gives it 3 out of 4, but the daily New York Times called
it a “sad, untethered book.”) NBC’s Today show has
selected Mad About the Boy as its second pick for its
new book club.
Fielding is eager to point out that she is not, and never has been,
Bridget, and that there is more than one fictional string to her bow.
“Originally, Mad About the Boy wasn’t even going to
be a ‘Bridget book.’ I just had something to say and wanted to
express it. Then, as I wrote more I realized it was that same person,”
she says, adding, “One of the wonderful things about life is that it
is constantly evolving. I was in my 30s when I first wrote about Bridget
and at that point we (women) were still saddled with the idea that we
could end up being a tragic, barren spinster who was going to die alone
and end up being eaten by a dog.”
The jury’s out on whether the tribulations of romance and commitment
have shifted in the intervening years since Bridget was born — age
32— in the pages of the Independent newspaper in 1995.
However, things have undeniably changed for both women: one real, one
For a start, in Mad About the Boy, Mark Darcy, Bridget’s
foxy, moneyed, English-boarding-schoolcum-human-rights-lawyer-type beau,
is (spoiler alert!) dead. (You read that correctly.) And when
news of this plot development first broke it exercised the worldwide
community of Darcy enthusiasts, many of whom were left so reeling by the
death of the leading man that they took to Twitter to vent various forms
of “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” Some were more
polite than others.
Motherhood is something that Fielding and Bridget are both now juggling,
and much of Mad About the Boy is given over to
Bridget’s trademark way of frenetically working out in real time how
to get along in a brave new world of child-rearing and technology —
all the while dating a hot young thing, combing nits out the
children’s hair and having lots of superior sex, preferably while on a
hiking mini-break if she can swing it.
Fielding is aware it’s not always easy.
“Children and sex are two things you can’t control. There is a
tendency now to think that we have to keep children on this permanent
high from an African drumming party to a Build-A-Bear party to computers
to fencing to flute. I remember as a child spending hours and hours
roller-skating around under the washing line pretending I was at
boarding school for roller-skaters. That
may not happen as much now,” she says.
character is missing from the newest ‘Jones’ installment: Mark Darcy
(played here by Colin Firth).
Laurie Sparham, Universal Studios)
“Particularly when women have worked the temptation is to think that
since you have to do really well at work you also have to do really well
at raising children,” says Fielding, who has a 7-year-old son and
9-year-old daughter with the American comedy writer Kevin Curran. They
Fielding spends most of her time in London now, but still maintains a
home in Los Angeles and says, “It’s great to be in a place where
people aren’t interested in you. Hollywood is interested in film
stars, not writers.” Fielding says that Los Angeles has a “lovely
lightness about it.”
So what happens now that the new book is out?
“I really want to spend time doing normal stuff like getting rid of
the prams in the attic, putting pictures in picture frames, cleaning out
the coats from the hall,” Fielding says, refusing to answer directly
whether there is a new movie in the works, whether we can expect another
Bridget book or even if there’s a new man about the Fielding
“What I will tell you is that there is a teacher at my children’s
school whose name is Mr. Wallaker (a Daniel Craig-esque character in Mad
About the Boy) and although he is not the Mr. Wallaker in the book
he does have a very good name.”
Does the teacher look like (James Bond actor) Craig?
“He does not look like Daniel Craig. But because I like Mr. Wallaker a
lot, I am going to say that he does.”