The new Bridget Jones. Pages: 386. Laughs 3. Alcohol units: 0
In the new book, our lovable heroine, now a rich widow with a toy boy, is stretched far too thin by author Helen Fielding
Helen Fielding: many of the writer’s strengths are on display in the new Bridget Jones novel. Photograph: Freud/PA
Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Number of pages in this book: 386, not counting acknowledgements.
Hours spent reading this book: five.
Laugh out loud moments: three.
Alcohol units: 0 (v.g.)
Medication: Disprin 4, Vitamin C tablet, 1. Am most unwell.
There is no doubt that Helen Fielding is a comic genius. There is no doubt either that this new book , which brings her heroine into middle age, is disappointing. Although the spectacular success of the first book, Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996; number of copies sold: 15 million) would be hard to top.
Despite the various explanations offered by reviewers for this lacklustre performance, the simplest one is probably the most accurate: at almost 400 pages, the book is just too long.
Sadly, all those lists, once the hallmark of Bridget’s wit, now look like padding. And so does a lot else besides. Lovable Bridget, who was at her funniest and her sharpest in the short newspaper columns in which she was born, has been stretched several comic set-pieces too thin.
In fact, in a shocking development, Bridget Jones is thin, a size 10, for most of this book. The new Bridget loses 40lb in four months – and in one chapter!!!!! This is a bit like Batman killing the Joker in the first 25 frames of a comic, or the talented Mr Ripley saying “you got me, guys” on page 10. The crusade, the obsession and the madness are gone.
The situation is made even worse because Bridget does not really detail how she lost this weight – fume! And detail has always been where Bridget, and her creator, have excelled.
Many of Fielding’s strengths are on display here. Her sureness with phone calls, for example, particularly when small children are being coped with at one end. She has a searing eye for female weaknesses and snobbery – Bridget’s friend, Jude, is on her iPhone looking for a man on DatingSingleDoctors, for example. But because Fielding’s touch is so light – or perhaps because her readers and reviewers are overwhelmingly female – this aspect of her satire is rarely praised.
Also, both Bridget’s mother and the love-rat Daniel Cleaver thrive in this third book, as vivid as ever. Daniel, played in the first Bridget film by Hugh Grant (sigh!), is now – very plausibly – an alcoholic.
In fact, at the rate everyone in this book shifts the booze, it is remarkable they’re not all in rehab a lot more often.
As for Bridget’s mother, she is in a non-retirement community, St Oswald’s, and wearing coat-dresses in the style of Carole Middleton, which is plausible and funny.
The problem with Bridget’s world has always been its heroes, not its heroines or its villains (I am happy to report that Vile Richard, Jude’s “self-indulgent commitment phobic” is still around in this book, although underused).