Following the life of Bridget Jones can be a confusing affair, and not just because of our heroine’s lack of organisational skills, her propensity to get drunk and her hapless ability to attract both the wrong sort of man and slapstick farce in equal measure.
Starting as a newspaper column, over 20 years author Helen Fielding’s imaginings of Bridget’s life have flip-flopped backwards and forwards in time in both the books and the films.
Both Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s competitive suitors, have appeared and disappeared. Mark was killed off in the books, while Daniel, played by Hugh Grant, has been replaced by a new love interest in the latest film.
In the newest book, however, both are back, full of vim and virility, so much so that due to a slight misunderstanding on Bridget’s part and some dolphin-friendly eco-condoms, either could be responsible for her unexpected but very welcome pregnancy.
In this reboot, Bridget is a Singleton again, her engagement to Mark ruined five years earlier by Daniel. As a news presenter on Sit Up Britain, she is older but no wiser and her biological clock is ticking as her critical self-assessment veers from professional and attractive to chaotic and unloveable.
“7pm. My flat. I have actually reached my sexual sell-by date. Men are no longer attracted to me because I am a withered and barren husk.
“7.05 pm. Babies: yuk. I am a top professional woman. Every woman has her needs, which I simply fulfil with adult liaisons, almost French in their elegance.”
It is these extreme views of herself, with the truth always somewhere in between, which make Bridget so hilarious and so recognisable to readers, particularly women.
With a deft wit, Fielding lampoons 21st century life but amongst the humour there are some some serious points about the way in which we judge ourselves and others. Bridget says to her baby: “The world you are about to enter will be a different sea, with so much to do with how many likes you get on Facebook; where everyone is showing off rather than sharing their sadnesses and fears; and ‘liking’ the most famous, or the richest, or the prettiest more than the most human, or the kindest friend.”
There is plenty of farce but the big laughs come from the dialogue, with Daniel Cleaver getting the funniest lines. When presenting The Archer-Biro Prize for Women’s Fiction – conceived for the eradication of chick-lit – to “Nominee authoresses, from a wide range of nations, lined up on stage: here a batik headdress, there a Guatemalan robe, there a full burka,” he says: “It is a tremendously arousing honour to be standing amongst such an array of lady finalists: almost like wandering into the Alternative Miss World Competition.”
The secondary characters are hit and miss: smug marrieds with children are a bit two-dimensional, the inhabitants of Bridget’s home village are dull and snobbish while her single friends, as in previous books, never really get off the page. Equally the plot is a bit thin, and there aren’t many surprises, but the main characters – Bridget, Mark, Daniel and Bridget’s wise and gentle father – are loveable and funny enough for engineered plot twists not to get in the way of a really enjoyable encounter.
While Fielding will perhaps never find herself the recipient of the fictitious Archer-Biro prize, she is certainly back to her witty best. ■
Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries, by Helen Fielding, Jonathan Cape, 240pp, £12.99