Kerryl Murray McGlennon
| Widow's Voice - January 7, 2014
Having seen the spoilers, out of curiosity I read the new Bridget
Jones’ Diary instalment.
My curiosity was how would someone who may not know the widow experience,
write about the widow experience? Honestly, pretty well, taking
into account it is Bridget Jones we’re talking about, and she is
5 years into the journey & I’m 18 months. At least in
part, her experience is familiar to me. Particularly being left on
your own to raise young children.
The widowhood experience is something that is very, very difficult to
comprehend until you’ve been there. I had no concept before it
happened, and the reviews I’ve read seem to support that; I
don’t feel there is a widow amongst the critics I’ve read. So
the book is generally being panned.
Firstly, it was never going to be a contender for the Man Booker –
it’s chick-lit people. Take it as such.
One comment that crops up is she’s again a singleton/cougar,
therefore reverting to type.
Firstly, she’s still Bridget. And the singleton/dating scenario is the
premise of her character – it’s what the first two books were about,
why wouldn’t the third?
And I hate to break the ‘happy happy joy joy’ view that spouses don’t
up and die on you until you’ve reached a ripe old age, but we
widows are out there. In large numbers. You’ll be surprised how
many younger widows (and widowers) there are from accidents,
suicide, cancer and other medical conditions and illnesses. And
some do want to re-partner down the track, so the fact Bridget’s
looking (and frankly, only starts at the 5 year mark, with the pressure
of her friends – without that she may not have), is also a reality.
This doesn’t even cover those divorcees who also find themselves
single again in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s (one reviewer
seemed to have the opinion that there are no single people at all in
these decades of life – no matter how it happens, hence this comment).
Another critique is that she’s still a social klutz. Again,
she’s still Bridget. Mark’s influence may well have reduced
some of those tendencies through her marriage, but the stress and trauma
of widowhood may well have brought them out in force again.
Widowhood does change your world view and may change your
personality in part, but it’s not necessarily a complete personality
transplant, which one critic I read seemed to expect. In
fact, that she was a social klutz to start with, it’s not surprising
she remains one. “Widow brain” (that I’ve heard a lot of
long-timers talk about still experiencing, and may be a PTSD
manifestation), is likely to amplify rather than dull this trait of
Bridget’s. The descriptor of ‘foundering’ by another character actually describes the experience pretty well; floundering is also apt.
Some raise a timing issue of Bridget being 51, with her youngest child
a 5 year old. This rankled with me initially too, but on
reflection, we don’t know if both kids were the result of a long
effort of assisted reproduction (ART), or even egg donor. It’s possible
for the 5 year old to be from a Frozen Embryo Transfer. And it’s
her contemporaneous diary, there’s no real reason for her to mention
it (except for back-story, and Fielding chose not to cover it in back
story). That it’s automatically assumed that both are natural
pregnancies also shouts to the lack of familiarity in the broader world
with the infertility experience. Heck, I did it and I HAVE the IF
Some may argue that Bridget talks about Mark’s death, why not any
(potential) ART? Having also been through both, you tend to
focus on and re-visit the loss of your husband, not what it took to have
your child(ren). And the loss of a spouse is something that hums
away in the background and then intensifies to crippling clarity at the
drop of a hat. It’s something I’ve learned to expect to be
Early in the book it’s mentioned that Mark left her a wealthy woman
– this is another of the criticisms; that she’s rich so it’s
not reality. First, they were wealthy to start with, and
rich people die, too. Plus he had made sure everything was in
place, just in case – as is stated in the book.
Although really just a passing comment, this is the biggest lesson I see
to the general readership of the book. Mark had made sure
that his family would be secure. Ian and I had not gotten
around to getting things in place even though we’d planned to, but our
superannuation system meant I’ve at least been left with a secure
roof over John and I’s head. I’ve encountered a number of
widows both on and off line that are not so secure. There was no
insurance, or no ability to get insurance, or limited superannuation.
They have no choice but to work, and/or they loose their homes when
they’re still in the depths of grief. Making sure both partners
are adequately insured to keep the family secure is a great lesson
from the book.
The upshot is there were moments that cut close to the bone, but it was
an overall enjoyable, easy chick-lit read giving an insight into the
widow experience through the lens of Bridget Jones.
in checking, no Helen Fielding has not experienced widowhood. In my opinion, she’s
obviously done some good research in writing this book.