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LITERATURE - TOPPING THE CHARTS

Helen Fielding returns... Bridget Jones is "Mad About the Boy"

Female writers dominate many genres of the novel in the UK. J. K. Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson are the Queens of children’s novels. The two times Man Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel rules the historical genre.  

E. L. James, the author of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, is the dominatrix of the erotic novel. Zadie Smith continues to wow with her multicultural, urban novels. P. D. James is the doyenne of crime fiction. And of course there’s the court jester of Chick Lit, Helen Fielding, who is back with a new Bridget Jones novel.   

To celebrate the rude health of women’s novel writing in the UK (which is in stark contrast to the machismo of the modern American novel), JOL Press in English will be publishing a series of articles which will bring you up to date with the best of Brit/Clit Lit.  

Watch this space.

Astonishingly, it’s been 17 years since Bridget Jones’s Diary had us reaching for the vodka, cranking up the Tina Turner, and laughing through our tears. Its hilarious and heart rending depiction of thirty something Bridget’s quest for love and marriage channeled Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” but managed to be supremely contemporary. It was named by the Guardian newspaper as one of the ten novels that best defined the 20th century.  It became a touchstone for lonely, urban career women (and gay men!) across the globe, and coined a raft of expressions that have embedded into the vocabulary of modern romance, such as ‘singletons’ and ‘Smug Marrieds’.  

If books could be friends, then Bridget Jones’s Diary would be a Bestie for many of its 15 million readers.  “She makes it OK to be imperfect”, says the actress Helena Bonham Carter, Helen Fielding’s real life best friend, “Actually it’s better than that.  She’s like a human antidepressant – she makes imperfection a virtue.  And let’s face it, it’s much better to be liked than to be perfect”.

Bridg' is back and “Mad About the Boy”... 

Today sees the publication of the third Bridget Jones novel, “Mad About the Boy”.  The second novel, “The Edge of Reason”, published in 1999, ended with Bridget bagging her man, at last, and marrying her D’Arcy, Mark Darcy, just in time to celebrate the new millennium. Now she’s back, and oh, how we have missed her. The question posed by the third novel is how the hapless, but now mature, Bridget has adapted to the humdrum reality of a sensible marriage. Right? Wrong. In a bold move that has dismayed many of her fans, Fielding has (spoiler alert) killed off  Darcy.  

Bridget is single once more, albeit a  (wealthy) single mother of two, and feverishly consumed by romantic dilemmas in the post millennial world of Twitter, Facebook, sexting and on line dating. Bridget’s circumstances have changed, but she remains reassuringly immature.  Here’s an extract from the new book:  

7.06am

Have just remembered am on Twitter.  Feel wildly puffed up!  Part of huge social revolution and young.  Last night I just didn’t give it enough time!  Maybe thousands of followers will have appeared overnight!  Millions.  I will have gone viral.  Cannot wait to see how many followers have come!!

7.10am

Oh.

7.11am

Still no followers.

I WILL: 

Lose 30 lbs.  Got to Pilates once a week, Zumba twice a week, gym three times a week and yoga four times a week.

I WILL NOT:

Drink so much Diet coke before yoga that entire yoga session becomes exercise in trying not to fart.

THE DATING RULES:

Do not text when drunk.  

Always be classy, never be crazy.

Be on time.

Do not obsess or fantasize.

Do not obsess or fantasize when driving.

Respond to what is actually going on, not what you wish was going on.

Don’t come on too obviously strong, but do sensual things like stroking stem of wine glass up and down.

Tuesday 24th April 2012

175lbs, calories 4827, number of minutes spent fiddling furiously with technological devices 127, number of technological devices managed to get to do anything they were supposed to 0, number of minutes spent doing anything nice apart from eating 4827 calories and fiddling with technological devices 0, number of Twitter followers 0.

Fielding drew heavily on her own experiences when she was writing Bridget Jones’s diary. Like her eponymous heroine, she was single, thirty something and her career was a “catalogue of chaos”. She had worked at the less glamorous end of the British media on television shows like (shudder) Jim’ll Fix It  and Noel Edmond’s Swap Shop. The screen writer Richard Curtis, an ex boyfriend, explains that her comic genius was always evident:  “Helen’s ability to see the funniness in herself was definitely part of what became Bridget.  She obviously isn’t Bridget but she can’t deny that there is Bridget like behaviour….her descriptions of how badly she was doing at work was part of her charm.”  Fielding was completely taken aback by the wild success of “Bridget Jones’s Diary”.  

In an interview with Vogue, she confides that at the launch of the book, “I was so drunk when I was signing books that I just sort of scrawled all over them”; when “the madness began” in 1997 with the publication of the paperback, she was in shock:  “I had to really figure out how the success thing worked and what it meant…to start with, I didn’t really understand.  I felt quite guilty and confused; I thought if I went out and bought something extravagant, like a business-class ticket or a Gucci handbag, that all the money would go away.

Singledom fueling Fielding's inspiration again...

Of course, the success of the books and the film adaptations starring Renee Zellwegger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant have made Fielding a fortune (estimated to be around 17 million pounds).  In the late nineties, she relocated to Los Angeles, “which seemed sort of miraculous with its sunsets and heady air of the Wild West…plus I realised that for the same price as my small, terraced house in Notting Hill I could get one of those flashy boxes with a swimming pool”. For a while, it seemed, she was living the dream.  She found love, in her forties, in the shape of John Curran, a television writer for The Simpsons.   She gave birth to two longed-for children; Dash, a boy, in 2004, and Romy, his sister, in 2006.  “The hospital classified me as a geriatric mother”, she admits.  Sadly, her relationship with Curran broke down in 2009, and she moved back to London with her children.

There can be little doubt that Fielding’s experience of being thrown back into singledom  as a single mother in her fifties inspired “Mad About the Boy”.  It also explains the absence of  Mark Darcy. Both motherhood and fear of the largely uncharted dating scene for seniors provide a rich seam of comedy in the book, together with that familiar reassurance that it’s normal to be angst ridden and chaotic and that everything will work out, somehow, in the end.   Fielding is now 55.  For women of the same vintage, her message is empowering.  “In the same way as the whole, tragic, barren spinster thing was hopeless outdated when I wrote the first book, the idea of a middle aged woman being expected to  start growing curly grey hair and wheeling a shopping trolley is totally irrelevant.  Women of my age are still dating, having sex and looking great. A women’s sell by date is getting later and later, and quite right too.”

It's going to be all right

British critics have not been kind in previews of “Mad About the Boy”, describing it as  “toe curling”, “a clunking disappointment”,  “tired and inauthentic”, “like listening to someone who once had perfect pitch but now can’t sing a note”. Not that it matters.  Pre sales have already taken “Mad About the Boy” to the top of Amazon’s best seller list, and it was announced months ago that a third film is in the offing. As Fielding says herself, “ Nobody’s life is perfect and today, more than ever, I think women are under a huge pressure to be something, achieve something, look like something. We are all constantly constructing a façade. If there was one thing I could say to my younger self, it would be ‘Stop worrying! It’s all going to be fine’.   But the irony is that I still do.  And that’s what I love about Bridget.  Bridget is an ordinary person, a flawed human being who muddles along, and still, despite the  blows, manages to find the lightness in life. ‘Hurrah!’ is what she says.  It is all going to be all right.” Now that the reviewers knives are out, let’s hope that Fielding has Bridget’s “Hurrah!” ringing in her ears; you can’t, after all, have it all.  But Helen, it’s going to be all right.

"Mad About the Boy" by Helen Fielding

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Jonathan Cape (10 Oct 2013)

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