In 1996, Helen Fielding unleashed the character of Bridget Jones onto the literary platform, captivating readers everywhere, particularly women.
What strikes you about Bridget, whether you’re reading the novel or watching the highly successful film adaptations, is her ability to encapsulate the trials and tribulations of womanhood in the twenty-first century. Though a fictional figure, there are a lot of women out there who see something about themselves in Bridget Jones. She counts calories, alcohol units and cigarettes, commenting with wittiness and a comically neurotic tone that I would argue are unrivaled anywhere else in fiction. The first two novels, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason received glorifying comments from critics, like ‘any woman who has ever had a job, a relationship, or indeed a mother will roar’ and ‘hilariously funny, miraculously observed, endlessly touching’. We loved to read about her hilarious mishaps with her very own Mr. Darcy, and then we loved Renee Zellweger bringing her to life on screen. At the end of the second installment Bridget finally secured a husband with a proposal from the lovely Mark Darcy, portrayed in the adaptations by the national treasure that is Colin Firth. After a fourteen year wait for her loyal fans, and after a lot of anticipation, Helen Fielding released the third installment: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. So how does it fare in comparison?
If you haven’t heard the big spoiler for the third book, consider this your final warning. Prior to its publication on 10th October 2013, the internet was buzzing with fans commenting on (and mostly critiquing) the news that Helen Fielding had killed off a main character, and that it was none other than our, and Bridget’s, beloved Mark Darcy. It turns out that the couple had in fact married in the gap between the ending of the second instalment, The Edge of Reason, and the beginning of this book. But if you were thinking you would read the third part to see that moment, to see Bridget flail around trying to plan a wedding, slim down to get into her dress and encounter all manner of bridal dramas, then don’t bother –we don’t get to see any of it. Mark is dead five years before this book even begins.
The reality sinks in, as you read the opening chapters, that the same amount of time has lapsed in the fictional world as it has in reality: Bridget is no longer the thirty-something singleton struggling with booze, weight and tumultuous relationships with Daniel or Mark. She is now 51 years old, a widow, and a single mother to two young children.
Despite the uproar regarding Mark’s death, I decided I would give Fielding a chance. Throughout the novel it is hard not to sympathise with Bridget, and I understand that Fielding was trying to introduce a more serious element to the books. Some criticism of the fans has said that they didn’t appreciate Fielding trying to do something different – that because it’s not the same plot, with the same characters, we will all toss it aside because we didn’t get a happy ending for our key protagonists. However, I argue precisely the opposite – this book feels like a slightly adapted version of the first two, with one man as the source of sexual satisfaction but ultimately, a dead end, and another love interest coming from an unlikely (but perfectly predictable for us as readers) source. Bridget is single, again. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to see her try to cope with the dramas of married life? I feel like instead of Helen Fielding being brave in killing Mark, it was actually quite cowardly. Potentially even insulting, did Fielding not have faith that all the fans would flock to see a married Bridget? We are force-fed yet more dating dramas, only this time with the added sorrow of Marks death.
There was even a moment when I wanted to throw this book across the room out of sheer frustration, and it involved Daniel Cleaver being naked in Bridget’s bed. We get one measly sentence about how Mark and Daniel eventually sorted everything out and became great friends – and suddenly we’re expected to be okay with the fact that Daniel not only babysits the children, but is their godfather. I really think that we needed more to explain that, especially after the continuous rivalry and back-story of the first two books. I’m sure everyone remembers the comedic fountain scene in the film version of The Edge of Reason. From that, to friends, and we’re merely given one sentence? It felt like Fielding wanted to shove Daniel in there somewhere and couldn’t be bothered to explain the circumstances.
Ultimately, I feel as though I should have put down The Edge of Reason and never picked up Mad about the Boy. I consider myself a feminist, so is it conflicting for me to have wanted to see Bridget and Mark have a happy ending? Feminist criticism of popular culture will often point to the fact that the only ‘end goal’ for a woman, no matter what her career accomplishments, is to get the man. What’s wrong with wanting to see more of what happens after marriage? Didn’t we deserve that, and more importantly, didn’t Bridget? Fielding seems to have killed Mark to avoid telling the marriage story and just started all over again, and back to Bridget the singleton. If you’re desperate to know how her story ends, then by all means give it a go. But proceed with caution, because perhaps (like me) you may be happier with the illusive ending of the second book.