Alice Bleby is a traveller, environmentalist and part-time writer.
Published April 7th 2014
Mr Darcy is dead… and so, unfortunately, is the magic of Bridget Jones' Diary.
Don't worry, I haven't committed the almost unforgivable sin of revealing a surprise or twist in the book. If someone hasn't already blurted it out to you in frustration or despair as soon as the book is mentioned, you discover within the first 10 pages the devastating fact that Mr Darcy has bitten the dust.
Whether you're an avid reader of Jane Austen fan fiction or simply a devotee of Bridget, it is hard to see how things could get worse than this. And yet, somehow, the tragic killing off of the modern version of the ultimate romantic hero pales in light of the catastrophic disappointment of a novel that follows. Sadly, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy marks the unfortunate demise of the Bridget Jones story as a credible, or even an enjoyable, piece of fiction.
The story follows Bridget, now in her early 50s, keeping things together five years after the death of her happy ending (in the form of Mark Darcy). After a suitably appropriate interval of mourning, we see Bridget getting back on the romantic horse, so to speak, dating a man considerably younger than she is. This of course sets off a torrent of obsessive Bridget self-interrogation, this time accompanied by all the embarrassing possibilities of social media and internet-based communication.
The use of the internet as agent-provocateur is probably the most painful part of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. I maintain that my opinion has nothing to do with an i-Generationer's disdain for the inability of older people to successfully negotiate the internet – I neither believe that to be universally true, nor am I particularly tech-savvy myself. But Bridget's counting of Twitter followers, in lieu of (or as well as) calories; her constant interpretation, reinterpretation and misinterpretation of internet-related dating signals; and her friend Jude's ceaseless activity on internet dating sites, are, quite frankly, boring. Bridget's motley but adorable urban family are now mostly irritating, mostly because of the internet; and what is even more annoying is that Bridget herself seems blithely unperturbed by how tedious they have become.
As a character, Bridget appears to have learned absolutely nothing in the decade or more that has passed since we last encountered her. Several years of a happy and stable relationship appear to have had no effect on her other than being the background to her moments of present grief; and having provided her with two children. These latter beings also seem not to have had a particularly formative influence on Bridget – they are certainly a source of life-chaos, but other than the occasional outpouring of motherly affection usually laced with guilt and/or sadness, these hapless creatures do not seem to have greatly contributed to Bridget's emotional development.
It might have been more interesting to follow Bridget negotiating the pitfalls of married life; to see how she rose to a whole new set of personal, social and romantic challenges that were bound to emerge, despite the fact that it seemed all her dreams came true with Mr Darcy. It was this development of the basic narrative outline that made the second book in the series, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason enjoyable, and there was still endless material to be mined from developments in Bridget's romantic and personal circumstances. Instead, the happy ending is conveniently dispensed with, and Bridget has reverted to type.
I am not suggesting that the point of these books is to be "interesting", or even to be a great literary endeavour. They're light, they're fun, they are a bit of romantic nonsense best enjoyed on a beach holiday or as a treat on the weekend. But the first book and, although not quite as clever, the second are funny, engaging and characterised by their humanity. Even though Bridget is dippy and sometimes misguided, we are still rooting for her, knowing that there's a little part each of us that has some similar hang-ups. That generous fellow-feeling towards the heroine vanishes in Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy however, almost before we have got through a day in the diary.
In her enthusiasm for an extension of Bridget's story into middle age, Helen Fielding seems to have at best, forgotten and at worst, misjudged the elements that constituted Bridget's previous success. At times Bridget appears to be breaking the fourth wall and "filling in" for the reader, whereas the charm of her earlier diaries lay in the insight into the struggle for self-improvement and personal contentment, human and unaffected, that we gained as an unobserved audience. The elapsed time between published Diaries is awkwardly bridged by the inclusion of parts of "last year's diary" and some laboured moments of introspection and reflection. The narrative is further undermined by inconsistencies in the plot, and several sickeningly clumsy attempts at solemnity and symbolism. Add to this the improbable and ultimately unnecessary reconciliation with Daniel Cleaver, and the final romantic conclusion which can be seen coming a mile away and is yet still relatively unbelievable when it occurs; and the whole thing feels like an infuriating sham.
Most people say they would rather have someone be angry with them rather than disappointed. Unfortunately, as a former fan of Bridget Jones and her often silly but ultimately endearing Diary, I am sadly disappointed in this third (and hopefully final) instalment. So disappointed, in fact, that I'm not even angry that Fielding killed off Mr Darcy, despite the obvious fact that actually Mr Darcy and Lizzy/Bridget live together in perfect happiness until a ripe old age. Well, maybe just a little bit angry…