Published on April 15th, 2014 | by MacKenzie Warner0
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding
The woman that all women love, Bridget Jones, is back in Helen Fielding’s new book Mad About the Boy. But is it Bridget Jones’ diarrhea?
Like many women around the world, I relate to Bridget Jones. Even though I was just a pre-pubescent kid when I read the books and watched the movies, I could foresee myself becoming the awkward, clumsy, potty-mouth that is Bridget Jones. Fast forward 14 years and I’ve become an awkward, clumsy, potty-mouth twenty-something. And Bridget? She’s now a 51-year-old woman in Helen Fielding’s latest novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.
The last time we heard from Bridget Jones, she was living her happily-ever-after with perfect Mark Darcy. It may be cliché — and there are a lot of clichés in the Bridget Jones franchise — but it couldn’t happen any other way. Who else would appreciate Bridget running around London in her knickers just to apologize for a silly diary entry? I still remember with fondness when Mark says to Bridget, “I like you very much… just as you are.” Still, life goes on and Bridget’s story continues in Mad About the Boy for better or worse — and I say for the worse.
In this new instalment, we learn that Mark, a nationally recognized human rights lawyer, has died tragically in a landmine accident in Sudan. Five years later, Bridget is still coming to terms with her widowhood and being a single parent to their children, Billy and Mabel. She’s also dealing with middle-age, a screenplay, and online dating. In a way, nothing has changed for Bridget Jones. She’s single, clueless, and struggling to be a proper adult.
Many fans of Helen Fielding’s books were downright angry when they learned that Mark Darcy was killed off for Mad About the Boy. While I liked Mark, I recognized that he had to die in order for Bridget to get into her usual shenanigans. Muddying his near-perfect character (and Bridget’s for that matter) with a divorce would have been even more tragic. Sure, it may have been a more daring story to pursue, but a deceased Mark means he is forever memorialized in his loveliness. Readers can go on loving Mark without feeling guilty about savouring Bridget’s new romantic relationships.
What bothered me was the fact that I was reading the same old story I read as a young girl. Seriously, the formula is so much the same that I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened in the new story. The only thing that had really changed for Bridget was her budding relationship with new technologies like texting, online dating, and Twitter. Everything else followed Fielding’s checklist:
Bridget falls for the wrong man. In the original story, it was Daniel Cleaver. In this one, it’s Roxster. Both relationships are passionate and sexy but short-lived.
Bridget falls for the right man despite a series of misunderstandings. This was Mark Darcy. Now it’s Mr. Wallaker: Bridget’s son’s stern but “Daniel-Craig-look-a-like” teacher. In both stories, Bridget thinks that he is cruel, deceptive, and snobby. In the end, however, they turn out to be the yin to Bridget’s yang.
Self-help books. Bridget loves self-help books with bad titles. In this new book, she’s traded dating advice for parenting advice. Apparently, you really can buy a book called French Children Don’t Throw Food.
(To my delight) Bridget still charts her daily feelings, responsibilities, and food intake before each entry in her diary: “136lb, calories 3844, packets of grated mozzarella consumed 2, boyfriends 0, possibility of boyfriends 0, combined alcohol units consumed by self and the friends 47.”
Despite being 51, Bridget is still quite foolish. At times, it’s quite endearing (like it was in the previous books); other times it’s just infuriating. I’ve never thought of Bridget as dumb. (Our breed is better classified as scatterbrained). But in certain parts of the book, her idiotic behaviour doesn’t seem realistically the behaviour of a full-grown woman with a successful writing career, children, and a social life.
I give Fielding points for her daringness to write about a middle-aged woman’s sexuality. Our Western culture fears aging and, in particular, aging women. Youth, beauty, and sex are so intertwined that we either cringe at the sexuality of an older woman or compare her to an animal stalking and hunting prey, a cougar. Women of a certain age come to adopt this term with affection or have nothing to do with it. In Bridget’s case, she does jokingly identify as a cougar when pursuing Roxster. And, hey, fair enough; she has her fun with him and eventually moves on.
Still, Fielding navigates Bridget’s insecurities and desires in the bedroom in a style that’s authentic to a real woman. She’s awkward, silly, and sometimes downright anxious when it comes to men and sex. These are not words I would associate with a cougar but rather with a normal woman who has been out of the dating world for a long time. Indeed, by not shrouding her sexuality and other aspects of Bridget’s life, Fielding is exploring the possibility, just maybe, that women beyond 40 can be attractive, interesting, and funny. In that aspect, I can respect Mad About the Boy.
Overall, however, I was sad to see one of my favourite characters regurgitated into the same scenarios. The story became so predictable so early on that I had to slug through until the end. I’m trying my hardest to forget this book so I can go on remembering the Bridget Jones who reports on important things like when she can’t find the fucking tuna. But it’s not her fault. No, Bridget, I like you… just as you are. Just not your latest escapades.