Bridget is back and that's v. good

By Connie Ogle, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sunday, March 12, 2000

"Number of alcohol units, cigarettes, near nervous breakdowns several thousand (bad); number of boyfriends 1, at least most of the time (good and bad); number of women trying to steal boyfriend 1 (v. bad); number of interviews with Colin Firth (v. good), number of times book provokes hysterical, body-twitching laughter, too many to count (v. v. good)"

The return of Bridget Jones was inevitable. Shrieks of "Oh my God, that's ME," erupted upon publication of Helen Fielding's popular "Bridget Jones's Diary," an inventive and uproarious modern version of "Pride and Prejudice." Even readers who only recognize Jane Austen as someone who writes juicy roles for Emma Thompson or Gwyneth Paltrow adored Bridget and her absolutely original voice.

The singular beauty of "Bridget Jones's Diary" was simply that you could utterly disregard the "Pride and Prejudice" subtext (though it added surprising depth) and still howl over Bridget's hysterical, panicked, thirty-something lifestyle.

Bridget's voice was not only hilarious, but also universal enough to catch any heart as yet unwarmed by the charms of Elizabeth Bennet.

But since Elizabeth and the original Darcy did presumably live happily ever after, and Bridget and her Darcy seemed ready to do the same, where to go with a sequel? To "The Edge of Reason", of course.

The sequel suffers slightly without the constant Austen parallel that improved its pedigree. Bridget is still hilarious, and high- brow readers will sniff out a couple of scenes lifted from Austen's "Persuasion".

Bridget's finally getting a satisfying shag or two, but her desperate pursuit of inner poise remains a Holy Grail-like quest. However, it's evident some things have changed:

"7:15: Hurrah! the wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared. Feel marvelous, rather like Posh Spice or similar radiant newlywed posing with sucked-in cheeks and lip gloss."

She and Mark Darcy are together. She still has her job on the "Sit Up Britain" TV show, though it's hardly fulfilling. She's still easily flummoxed by her manipulative and possibly insane mother. But none of this is anything that a viewing of the "Pride and Prejudice" video and visions of Colin Firth in a wet, clingy shirt won't cure.

Not even this smallest of comforts lasts, of course. A few woeful misunderstandings later, Bridget is convinced Mark Darcy is either gay or sleeping with another woman, and that she herself is a "Yates Wine Lodge-style easy meat gutter floozy."

There's no way, really, to top "Bridget Jones's Diary" consistently, but Fielding hits the series' high note with Bridget's first foray into journalism, an interview with her beloved Colin Firth, peppered with heavy breathing on Bridget's part and sighs and moans on Colin's (though not for the reasons Bridget might hope). It's the best passage in either book.

Mostly, we get what we crave, a day like Monday, March 3: "131 lbs. (hideous instant fat production after lard-smeared parental Sunday lunch), cigarettes 17 (emergency), incidents during parental lunch suggesting there is any sanity or reality remaining in life..."

Surely Austen herself would applaud this latest chronicle of modern society. Fielding's humor is less gentle, maybe, but every bit as on target. And that's v. good. V. good indeed.