Fiction: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen FieldingDear Lord, I love this book.

I think this makes it the sixth time I’ve read it? I first read it … either in high school or freshman year of college. I want to say before college, because I definitely used an excerpt from Bridget Jones for a speech tournament at Franklin Pierce (British accent and everything! I believe I came in fourth. Hurrah!). For a while I was reading it every January, as a kind of kick-off of the year. But going back through my records (because yes, I am completely the crazy, paranoid, anal-retentive individual that keeps records of when she reads books, by month and year, and whether she’s read them before or not. IT’S ONLY A PROBLEM IF YOU THINK IT’S A PROBLEM), the last time I read it was 2007.

Why did I fall in love with Bridget Jones back then? She was funny, self-assured, thought she had a “weight problem” (come to me when your weight problem is an additional sixty pounds on you, Bridge), delightfully alcoholic and addicted to cigarettes, went through phases of trying to be a better person, and single in her thirties. Her character was someone I could connect with, even as a young adult.

I took the book back out of my bookcase this time because as I write this, there is one more week to go until I turn thirty. And apparently I’ve been all over Twitter with this, but nowhere else. Short story is: I’m not handling it. It’s not the age thing – I don’t feel thirty (not that I know what thirty feels like); when I get together with my friends I still feel young and we still want to do young things. I just thought that I’d be more … advanced in some parts of my life that I’m not. Do you know I’ve never colored my hair a wacky color? In high school, when everyone else was putting blue streaks and pink streaks in their hair (or dying their entire head a different color), I never touched the stuff. When I did highlight my hair, it was in subtle tones of red. Two days ago, Hot Topic was having a sale and I bought some colored chalk and I’ll use it, at some point, but a thirty-year-old with blue streaks just seems weird, right?

I’ve never sung karaoke. I don’t have a tattoo. I haven’t finished writing any of my stories. I’ve never been to a Hooter’s. And I’ve been single for a very long time. And let me tell you, Little Corner of the Internet For Whom I Write: I’m starting to feel lonely.

Anyway. Uh, sorry if you just read those paragraphs. Those were clearly meant for an analyst, not my book blog. Apologies.

But it’s also why I turned to Bridget Jones. I could read this from a thirty-year-old Singleton’s perspective — a perspective I’ve never had before. I always assumed I’d have found someone by now, so to be in pretty much the same position as Bridget would hopefully make me feel better.

Good news – she did. I mean, look! She experiences the same angst as me!:

Humph. Have woken up v. fed up. On top of everything, only two weeks to go until birthday, when will have to face up to the fact that another entire year has gone by, during which everyone else except me has mutated into Smug Married, having children plop, plop, plop, left right and center and making hundreds of thousands of pounds and inroads into very hub of establishment, while I career rudderless and boyfriendless through dysfunctional relationships and professional stagnation. [67-68]

If you’ve never read Bridget Jones’s Diary, it is written as a fictionalized diary. Meaning, it doesn’t sound like those blogs I used to write in college – she actually includes dialogue and elements of storytelling that a person wouldn’t necessarily employ when writing a diary. But that’s why it’s fiction. The book starts in January of a year (not necessary to the plot) and goes through December. Bridget works in publishing (I want to work in publishing!) and has a crush on her boss, Daniel Cleaver (I have never had a crush on any of my bosses! But I imagine that’s a thing). She visits her parents over Christmas (which is a thing that I also do!), and at an annual party, her mother and her mother’s friend Una try and set her up with Mark Darcy, a divorced barrister who Bridget used to play with as a child (none of those things ever happen to me, because the only childhood boy friend I had is gay! And lovely, and his boyfriend is lovely, but — I wasn’t friends with boys as a child… hm. Maybe that explains a lot.)

As the months go on, Bridget does have an affair with Daniel, but throughout she maintains her sense of self and character. At the first date, as he’s reaching for her skirt, he — well:

As he started to undo the zip he whispered, “This is just a bit of fun, OK? I don’t think we should start getting involved.” Then, caveat in place, he carried on with the zip. Had it not been for Sharon and the fuckwittage and the fact I’d just drunk the best part of a bottle of wine, I think I would have sunk powerless into his arms. As it was, I leaped to my feet, pulling up my skirt.

“That is just such crap,” I slurred. “How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. Good-bye.” [29]

She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t, and she waits for Daniel to commit to her before going out with him again. (It’s not her fault he cheats on her – he’s a fuckwit.)

Meanwhile, in another part of the plot that (luckily) does not echo anything going on in my real life, Bridget’s mother is going through an end-of-life crisis, in which she leaves her husband and becomes a reporter for a morning show doing a report called “Suddenly Single,” which consists of her thrusting a microphone under the nose of a single woman and asking them, “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” Bridget’s mother is a caricature, almost, but in the end of the book she gets her comeuppance and returns to her husband after taking a lover (Julio) that turns out to be a con artist.

And then there’s Mark Darcy. I should have mentioned at the top that this book is also a very loose reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, with Bridget playing the part of Elizabeth Bennet, Daniel Cleaver becoming George Wickham, and Mark Darcy obviously playing the great role of Fitzwilliam Darcy. (So now you know why I find Bridget’s mother so bloody annoying — I *detest* Mrs. Bennet.) If you’ve read P&P, you know that at the end of the novel, Darcy is going to help Bridget with a family problem, thereby winning her over completely – this after he’s steadily had her warm to him over the course of a couple of months. For instance:

“Last Christmas,” Mark went hurriedly, “I thought if my mother said the words ‘Bridget Jones’ just once more I would go to the Sunday People and accuse her of abusing me as a child with a bicycle pump. Then when I met you … and I was wearing that ridiculous diamond-patterned sweater that Una had bought for me Christmas … Bridget, all the other girls I know are so lacquered over.” [207]

And then he asks her out for dinner.  swoon

AND THEN, after he goes and gets Julio captured and Bridget’s mother is back at home with her husband, Mark whisks Bridget away from her family and craziness on Christmas to decompress, rents a suite at a local hotel and then orders room service. He’s telling her the story of how he basically Sam Spade-ed Julio out of Portugal, when:

“I simply told him that she was spending Christmas with your dad, and, I’m afraid, that they’d be sleeping in the same bed. I just had a feeling he was crazy enough, and stupid enough, to attempt to, er, undermine those plans.”

“How did you know?”

“A hunch. It kind of goes with the job.” God, he’s cool.

“But it was so kind of you, taking time off work and everything. Why did you bother doing all this?”

“Bridget,” he said. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”

Oh my God. [266]

GUH. Because no, it’s not always obvious! And maybe that’s coming from a woman who is completely oblivious. I admit: I do not recognize when someone flirts with me, mainly because it happens only all the never time. So when someone starts being nice – and nicer than normal – for instance, friends that do not usually have physical contact beyond a fistbump or high-five, all of a sudden they start giving gentlemanly shoulder slaps of “Good job!,” and also saying that they have a plan for a birthday, when normally booze is exchanged and that’s it? Is that flirting, or is it the new normal? I DON’T KNOW, I ACTUALLY CAN’T READ SIGNS.

I’m telling you, guys — my mind is one big ball of crazy. But at least I don’t keep track of how many calories I ingest on any given day?

In the end, this book is one I will continuously return to. The narrator is smart, funny — I will say, also exceptionally British. There are some jokes that I have to look up to get the reference, but luckily, they’re not the important jokes. And overall, Bridget is relate-able. She resonated with me when I was in high school, as someone to look up to. Now, I find her a comrade-in-Singleton-arms. And I look forward to the day when I can revisit her and say, “Oh, that used to be me.”

PS – the movie is good too. Doesn’t follow the book’s plot 100%, but who can resist Colin Firth playing Mark Darcy? Hmm… maybe that’s how I’ll spend the rest of this snow day…

Grade for Bridget Jones’s Diary: 6 stars

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