Oh, the mixed feelings. I loved Bridget Jones’ Diary – the book AND the movie. My brother (hi, Sibby!) and I can practically recite the audiobook to each other. Even though I was not a huge fan of The Edge of Reason, it left Bridget and Mark in a really good place. They were getting married and living happily ever after. I didn’t know if I necessarily wanted another book in this series, where the plot would have to turn on some sort of Bridget/Mark marital problems.
Then, a few months before this book was published, Helen Fielding dropped a bomb. Bridget Jones is a widow. Like many other Bridget fans, I short-circuited. Mark Darcy is DEAD? Mark was Bridget’s rock, her safe place, and the one person who could moderate her tendency to declare herself an incompetent failure at everything. I couldn’t believe Fielding would just rip Bridget’s happiness apart that way.
But then I got to thinking. If happily married Bridget and Mark were a fantastic end to a book, and I didn’t want to read a book about unhappily married Bridget and Mark, the only way to write a new Bridget book was to take Mark out of the picture. Fielding couldn’t have them divorce – that would have soured us on the romance of the first two novels (or perhaps on Fielding herself). Since the first Bridget book is one of my favorites of all time, I decided maybe I should give this one a try and see if Bridget without Mark is still the hapless, hopeless Bridget that I know and love so well.
Bless her heart, Bridget hasn’t changed much. This book starts four and a half years after Mark’s death, and Bridget is struggling to deal with her loss and raise her two children, Billy and Mabel. In her defense, Bridget is very aware that she cannot afford to fall completely to pieces. Though she does allow herself to wallow quite a bit (she has developed a mysterious habit of eating entire bags of grated cheese), she continuously reminds herself that she must Keep Buggering On for the kids’ sake. Despite her steely resolve not to break down in front of the children, or be complete crap as a mother, Bridget still worries (in an almost manic way) about trivial things. She counts her calories, obsesses over her number of Twitter followers, and daydreams about ham and cheese paninis. When she meets a new guy, she revives the “But I luuuurve him,” diary entries that made me smile in the first books. She gets stuck up a tree, worries about farting during yoga, and has a botched botox experience. Overall, Bridget may be older, but she’s still our girl. The truly touching moments are the ones where she’s missing Mark or finally, FINALLY having a real talk with her mother that doesn’t involve an argument about what Bridget is wearing. You know how hard Bridget is trying, and you just can’t help rooting for her despite sharing her fears that social services will come for her children.
I did have a few problems with the story. This first one seems minor, but it was really distracting while I was reading. Here are the names of a few adult characters who are introduced in this book: Rebecca, Chloe, Scott, Jake, Brian, George. Unremarkable, right? Here are the names of a few children who attend school with Billy and Mabel: Atticus, Cosmata, Thelonius, and Oleander. What?? Also, there were a few times that Bridget just flat-out got on my nerves. Prime example: she’s in a meeting with a production company that is considering making a screenplay Bridget has written into a film. While the production executives are discussing her work all around her, what is Bridget doing? She’s texting. And she’s not texting about an emergency with the children – she’s flirting with her “toy boy.” This happens, not just at one production meeting, but ALL of them. I wanted to smack her upside the head and yell at her to CONCENTRATE if she really cared about this screen play thing at all.
Biggest source of irritation? (Stop reading here if you don’t want this plot point spoiled)
Daniel Cleaver. I was not at all surprised to find him back in this book. He’s like a habit Bridget can’t break. I figured he’d at least be mentioned a few times, even if he wasn’t a presence in the book. But it turns out, he’s not only still in Bridget’s life, he is her children’s godfather. Let that sink in a minute. Mark Darcy’s best friend from Cambridge, who slept with his wife, ruined his first marriage and broke his heart, is the godfather of Mark Darcy’s children. No. Fielding explains this by saying that Mark contacted Daniel after Billy was born so that they could mend their fences. This I can see. I can imagine mature, sensible Mark reaching out to a former friend to say, “I can forgive you now – no hard feelings.” But I can’t wrap my head around a situation where Mark asks Daniel to be Billy’s godfather, particularly when Daniel has so clearly not changed a bit. He’s older, and (as we learn towards the end of the book) sadder, but he is still Daniel Cleaver. And Bridget asks him to babysit. I just couldn’t buy into it.
The bottom line? It turns out that more Bridget, even a Bridget who can be maddening, is better than no Bridget at all. The great thing about the diary format of these books is that you experience everything right along with Bridget. I missed Mark with her. I felt overwhelmed by the complexity of school scheduling with her. I laughed out loud with her multiple times, and I cheered with her when it seemed things were working out alright. This time, I really do hope Fielding is done with Bridget. She’s happily settled in the end, and I feel like she’s earned it.