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Friday, September 30, 2016

'Mad About the Boy' by Helen Fielding and 'Bridget Jones's Baby'


From the BLURB:

Is it morally wrong to have a blow-dry when one of your children has head lice?

 Is technology now the fifth element? Or is that wood?

Is sleeping with someone after 2 dates and 6 weeks of texting the same as getting married after 2 meetings and 6 months of letter writing in Jane Austen's day?

Pondering these, and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of single-motherhood, tweeting, texting and redisovering her sexuality in what SOME people rudely and outdatedly call 'middle age'.

*** I’m going to err on the side of fair-warning, and say there may be spoilers for the movie ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ in this review of ‘Mad About the Boy’ ***

‘Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy’ was the 2013 bestselling third novel in British author Helen Fielding’s classic series which began back in 1996 with ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’, and had a 1999 sequel called ‘The Edge of Reason.’

So, this is going to be a bit of a different joint-review of both a book and film, because there’s a bit of explanation required with how these stories fit together, and why it took me so long to read the third book but actually seeing the new film (which is more like the fourth installment in this series) made me leap back into Bridget’s life …

First of all – I was 12 when second book ‘‘The Edge of Reason’ came out, and I was about 14 when I first read ‘Bridget Jones's Diary’. Similarly, I was 11 when the television series ‘Sex and the City’ first aired, and I likewise started sporadically watching that show at about 14 too. Which basically means I was a 14-year-old girl completely enamored and charmed by a singleton existence and desperately wanted to live in either New York or London to get the full experience. This, I think, is totally normal. I adored the ‘Bridget Jones’ series, and can vividly remember belly-laughing while reading the books (there’s a particularly vivid running-joke in ‘Edge of Reason’ of Bridget thinking she’s been sent a lovely new lipstick, which turns out to be a bullet/death-threat that … when I type it out here, sounds slightly horrifying but was genuinely *hilarious!*) At about 13/14 I also saw the 1995 BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with Colin Firth for the first time and decided he was an absolute dreamboat (to the point that I completely rocked up for the Amanda Bynes 2003 classic ‘What a Girl Wants’ entirely for him. Naturally.) Again – all normal. And this probably explains quite a bit of my general outlook on single life (so long as you have good friends, life’s a party!) and appreciation for the romance genre generally. But what this all really leads me to is … I have a very, very fond heart for Ms Jones, and Mr Darcy – and butting against convention for women’s roles in society.

So when ‘Mad About the Boy’ came out in 2013, and there was ample pop-culture coverage and forewarning about the fact that the third installment had Bridget as a widower with Mark Darcy being killed and leaving her behind with their two children … I stayed away. I could not do it. I could not pick up a book knowing Bridget was going through that, and that she had leaped so far ahead from coupled to widowed from the last time I’d seen her.

But when it was announced that a new Bridget Jones film was coming out this year, still featuring Colin Firth in his iconic role, and it was called ‘Bridget Jones's Baby’ in a complete departure from the trajectory of the book series… well, I had to see that for myself.

And I loved the film. I saw it with my Mum, and we cackled throughout. It was genuinely lovely and funny, and the fact that Colin Firth can keep surprising me with his depths (he’s so sad and dear in this film, truly) and I have missed Renée Zellweger like crazy these last few years … it was just great. Even better is that the ‘Bridget Jones’ movie trilogy becomes the first (in HISTORY!) to have all-female directors, and I found there was still so much depth to this character and what she had to say about women’s conventional roles in society … All round, this film left me chuffed.

But perhaps more importantly is that this film encouraged me to go back and give ‘Mad About the Boy’ a try… which means I’ve read/seen Bridget Jones’s life story in order, since writer Helen Fielding admitted they made this film to fill in the gaps bought up by ‘Mad About the Boy’ which leaps into Bridget’s life without Mark, and doesn’t go into how they finally got together and started a family. That being said – ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries’ book is coming out in October for those who’d really prefer a novelization of Bridget’s timeline.

‘Mad About the Boy’ is set five years after Mark’s death, and 14 years after the events of the second novel. Bridget has two children – Billy and Mabel, aged 7 and 5. She’s got the motto “keep buggering on” and is really trying to not let grief swamp her, as it did in the early days of Mark’s tragic death. The novel is of course in the diary-entry style we’ve come to expect from Bridget, but with a bit of timeline leap-around’s as we go from seeing Bridget start to get serious with a younger man/toy-boy (30-year-old Roxster) and then we go back further to see how she got herself into a place where she could start to think about moving on, romantically.

And ‘Mad About the Boy’ is the usual fare of Bridget’s cunning commentary on modern-day curiosities; everything from technology to school pick-up fashions. There is quite a sense of ‘the shoe being on the other foot’, with Bridget grappling with getting older and having a healthy sense of envy for the younger set (of which, she was one – once);

Call me old-fashioned, but I did read in Glamour that one’s shorts should always be longer than one’s vagina.

There’s also still a good smattering of contempt for ‘smug married couples’ as Bridget is in her widow’s weeds with everyone trying to pair her off with the last-man-standing (divorcees in their 60s, before all the 40-year-old women snap them up, apparently). Bridget taking Roxster as her lover completely flies in the face of this, and makes for some fantastic Bridget Jones Gets her Groove Back scenes.

There’s also an interesting side character in the children’s PE Teacher, Mr Wallaker … a sour sort who keeps catching Bridget in her most humiliating, terrible-at-motherhood moments. This Mr Wallaker (described as a Daniel Craig-lookalike in a *hint* to casting directors) is simply divine;

'THEY ARE CHILDREN!’ Mr Wallaker roared. ‘They are not corporate products! What they need to acquire is not a constant massaging of the ego, but confidence, fun, affection, love, a sense of self-worth. They need to understand, now, that there will always – always – be someone greater and lesser than themselves, and that their self-worth lies in their contentment with who they are, what they are doing and their increasing competence in doing it.'

I think seeing Colin Firth in ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ completely armored me to go into ‘Mad About the Boy’. There was a nice sense of closure already, before I even started reading … to be reminded of the magic in Mark and Bridget that somehow made it okay to go into this book where his absence certainly made me cry, but also had me rooting for more happiness in Bridget’s life.

Helen Fielding has lost none of the charm and hilarity that so endeared her to me as a 14-year-old, and had me holding Bridget Jones up as a worthy pop-culture idol. It was good – really, really lovely and good – to be back in Bridget’s mind and this world she’s created for herself, and is working hard at rebuilding. I completely recommend seeing ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ and reading ‘Mad About the Boy’ (and in that order actually makes a lot of sense!) and I’m totally going to be here for the ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ book when it comes out … no more delayed gratification and three years between installments, not when Fielding and Jones are still this damn good.

5/5  



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