Will Have Small Glass of Wine

By Sarah Lyall | The New York Times - October 18, 2013

Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ .

© Glen Hanson


Do we really want to hear about the middle-aged escapades of Bridget Jones, the tipsy, ditsy, formerly 30-ish heroine of two previous novels and two previous movies? Hapless, inept, prone to romantic calamity, lurching from one mishap to the next through a hazy fog of faux pas and cigarette smoke, Bridget was so specific to her age that allowing her to reach 51 feels like a violation of the natural order of the fictional universe, as if a new Harry Potter book had him using magic to refinance his mortgage.

So what a pleasant shock to find that the latest Bridget Jones installment, “Mad About the Boy,” is not only sharp and humorous, despite its heroine’s aged circumstances, but also snappily written, observationally astute and at times genuinely moving. Fielding has somehow pulled off the neat trick of holding to her initial premise — single woman looks for romance — while allowing her heroine to grow up into someone funnier and more interesting than she was before. Who knew middle age could be so eventful?

A lot has changed since we last said goodbye to Bridget, who at the end of “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” seemed poised to find happiness with dreamy Mark Darcy, the human-rights lawyer she loved. She has been married and widowed, Mark having been tragically killed in a land-mine accident in Sudan five years earlier. (Luckily for us, her memories raise the hope that should this book also become a film, Colin Firth could appear in flashbacks.) She has her loyal chorus of friends, who have somehow obtained plausible jobs but who still tend to get drunk and dispense bossy advice. (“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 counsels, in response to a panicked pre-date question: “What are you supposed to do about being naked?”) Bridget has two little children, whose godfather is her wickedly lascivious ex-boyfriend Daniel Cleaver — that would be the Hugh Grant movie role — who drives a convertible filled with dodgy magazines. She has a proper profession as a writer that she seems to be fairly good at.

There are the usual ridiculous situations: Bridget’s son’s gym teacher spots her carrying informational leaflets about gonorrhea and syphilis that her daughter swiped from the doctor’s office; Bridget mistakenly calls the too-perfect class mother Nicorette instead of Nicolette (the name, she notes, was “presumably chosen by parents before invention of popular smoking substitute”); Bridget repels a potential suitor on their first date by blurting out, “If we have sex will you promise you’ll call me and see me again?”

Technology stymies her: she can’t remember her passwords and tends to push buttons in a way that causes multiple screens to go blank en masse. “Stop being scared of turning on the television,” she exhorts herself at one point, “but instead simply locate and read instruction manual for TV, Virgin box, DVD remotes and buttons so that TV becomes source of entertainment and pleasure rather than meltdown.”

“Harried English mother with small children” is a well-worn novelistic setup, deftly explored in Allison Pearson’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and, more recently, in Gill Hornby’s waspishly droll “The Hive.” But Fielding beautifully conveys the constant seesaw of emotions a parent feels toward the young and demanding: one minute overwhelming love, the next minute overwhelming desire to lock oneself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin. Bridget-the-parent is like a character in a Russian novel, lurching constantly from ecstasy to despair, sometimes in the course of a single paragraph.

Most of the book is written in the easy, breezy shorthand Fielding perfected in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” with its dearth of pronouns and articles. (“Think will have small glass of wine.”) We get some good long narration, but large chunks of the book come in diary form, introduced by select statistics of the day, hilariously expanded to reflect grown-up Bridget’s grown-up concerns: the number of lice she finds in her children’s hair; the number of Twitter followers she loses after sending dumb drunken tweets; the percentage of her day she devotes to texting and worrying about texting. (“Texts from Roxster 0,” she writes of one boyfriend. “Number of times checked for texts from Roxster 4,567.”)

This is romantic comedy — chick-lit, really — but its big heart, incisive observations, nice sentences, vivid characters and zippy pace make it a book you could happily spend the night with. And Bridget’s amorous adventures — the guy she repels with her first-date nerves; the uncomplicated 29-year-old who reintroduces her to the joys of sex but who she is afraid will resent being deployed in public as an “anti-aging device” (Ryan Gosling can play him in the movie); and then the seemingly unlikely, but actually perfect, chronically amused man she falls for in the end (this would be Daniel Craig) — make the prospect of middle age not so bad at all. It is possible I cried a little at the end, but then, as Bridget might say: am sucker for happy endings.