BOOK CLUB: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

We’re one bud down for this month’s slightly delayed book club in which we look at Helen Fielding’s third book in the Bridget Jones series Mad About the Boy. Fielding’s iconic heroine is now a single mother in her fifties and just stepping back into the dating game in the internet age.

SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains major spoilers for the plot of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.

Getting the ball rolling, let’s start with the obvious. Thoughts on Fielding’s choice to kill off the beloved Mark Darcy, making Bridget Jones a single mother and widow. Necessary for the ‘classic Bridget antics’ or could the book have worked sans the Mr Darcy Death?

Michelle: This is perhaps a contentious answer, and may be due to the fact that I haven’t read the other two Bridget Jones books and therefore don’t feel as attached to the characters, but I can see why Fielding decided to kill off Darcy for the third installment of the series. Had they just separated AGAIN and reunited AGAIN it wouldn’t have been all that believable, and their splitting would have seemed contrived just to cause conflict in the story. This way, we see Bridget grieve the death of her Mark, (with some scenes that I found very moving) and then strike out on her own again, in classic Bridget form. She makes mistakes, and makes a bit of a mess of things, but ultimately tries her best to make a good life for herself and for her kids, making sure they grow up in a happy, loving environment. The tone is a different one, but I think it works.

Elen: Like Michelle I haven’t read either of the other two books (or seen either of the films, oops) so I wasn’t connected to Mark as a character beyond the sense this book gave of him as a grounding force in Bridget’s life. I think there wouldn’t have been nearly as many shenanigans with Darcy present although it could have worked, albeit as an entirely different story with more focus on parenting and how to manage a long term relationship between two very different people.

Michelle: I agree with you, Elen, the book definitely could have worked with Darcy, but it would have been very different.

Kate: Because I’m a fussy completionist I crammed in the first two books before this one, but I have to say I wasn’t all that fond of Mark as a character. He actually gets relatively little page time in the first two books as he and Bridget are actually not together or mired in a multitude of misunderstandings for most of them. I think killing him off does work well, it’s a shocking twist for a romance focused series and the parts dealing with Bridget’s grief are the strongest of the book. I liked how Fielding showed not just the immediate effect of grief, but also the long lasting consequences Mark’s death had on Bridget and her children’s lives (the scene where they address their Father’s Day cards to ‘Heaven, Outer Space’ – gah, so painful and so painfully realistic).

That said there could have been a third Bridget Jones book with Mark Darcy in it, but it would have to be a very different book both from this one and the previous two. Having Mark and Bridget break up again would push the boundaries of believability over whether their relationship was really worth it after all so perhaps Mark did have to die to keep that untarnished view.

Hayley (I’ve read all the books): I see it as both good and bad. I think it’s bad because it means that when we come to reading this book, there is very little difference between Bridget in the first book and Bridget now. As a reader who quite liked Mark I was definitely shocked and sad that Fielding killed him off. I originally had wanted to see their relationship progress, not necessarily as a separate and get back together scenario, but more as partners and parents muddling through, trying to find compromise in the hilarious moments of their in-laws, kids illness, babysitting nightmares. That kind of thing. But I also think it is a good thing because Mark’s character most likely could not have been developed further. He 100% had his flaws, but ultimately his character stayed the same throughout the entirety of the books and movies, making progress, but not leaving much room to continue it in this book. Basically, I can see it in both lights.

Okay, as we’ve covered dearly departed Mark let’s turn to the other men in Bridget’s life. Bridget’s return to dating is a big part of the plot and her two love interests are major characters. Did you like the romance aspect of the novel? And what about the love interests? Did she pick the right man?

Kate: I really liked the perspective of dating as a newly single person of (sorry Bridget) middle age. The first two books were strongest when they captured the experience of single thirtysomethings and this one’s observations on the perils of dating in the internet age are a welcome return to that form. I found Roxster and Bridget’s relationship to be very sweet and he was an immensely likable character. In fact, I think he might be my favourite of all Bridget’s love interests across the series – he respects her while also being perfectly silly and fun. At the same time, however I think the problems and conclusion of their relationship was well done and allowed both characters to remain sympathetic and complex. Mr Wallaker, ON THE OTHER HAND. Uuuuuuugh. My least favourite thing about Mark was how frequently he was brought in to solve all of incompetent Bridget’s problems and fuck-ups. It undermined her as a character and also gave an unpleasant power dynamic to their relationship (not helped by his financial advantage over her). Mr Wallaker is given the exact same role here (including the convenient bags of money) and to make things worse he does it all while explicitly making mean and patronising remarks to Bridget (a recently widowed single mother!) and her children about how incompetent he considers her. What on earth is supposed to be romantic about that?? Especially as much of the book focuses on Bridget learning to cope by herself why did she need to be saddled with this boorish specimen who directly contradicts that at the end? Rather than suggesting an evolution of Bridget it feels like a disappointing backslide into the same infantilised role of Needing A Man To Take Care of Her which Mark had her in.

Elen: I was a bit prejudiced against Roxster in the beginning, mostly due to that fact that no one over the age of eighteen should be using a nickname quite that ridiculous but I did find his relationship with Bridget to be realistic and sympathetic. I was glad they didn’t end up together though as I preferred that Fielding didn’t gloss over the problems faced by two people who might be perfect for each other but just aren’t at the same stage in their lives. Like Kate I also wasn’t a fan of Mr Wallaker, to me it felt like he was hastily rewritten to be a love interest halfway through as his earlier appearances felt far too antagonistic to me to make him sympathetic later on. Bridget says later that he was always looking out for her and trying to protect her but I didn’t get that impression at all.

Hayley: While I am definitely happy that Bridget found someone who she wanted to be with, I agree, it felt like he was just there to be the ‘man fix’. I almost would have been more satisfied with Bridget coming to terms with being a single mother, feeling more confident and comfortable and knowing that she didn’t NEED a man, but WANTED to be with someone, and that whenever they came along she would accept them into her life. At the same time, I can totally relate to the feeling of having someone suddenly disappear from your life (not through death obviously), so that kind of hit home during this reading of the book. It was quite encouraging to see that Bridget, the mess of all messes, could find someone to help her feel happy again. I just feel like the person that did that could have been left open ended, not Mr Wallaker, but someone along the same lines of solidity, but less … irritating and self righteous.

Michelle: I agree with a lot of what the others said, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. I really enjoyed reading the exchanges between Bridget and Roxster, their relationship was funny and sweet, and Roxster was a likable character who seemed to fit with Bridget’s eccentric personality. Despite this, I was also happy when they broke things off, as despite their connection their lives were just at two very different stages and they couldn’t continue down the same path without both of them having to make some serious sacrifices. Mr Wallaker, on the other hand. Ugh. Has there ever been a more UGH character, or love interest, written in the history of all fiction IN THE WORLD?! OK, slight exaggeration. But I didn’t like a single aspect of his character. He was so rude to Bridget about her parenting skills, barking military-esque orders at the children and adults alike. As the others have pointed out, it would have been great to see Bridget be happy with being single, having experienced a wonderful relationship and maybe leaving it open to her finding love later on down the line. But to hurriedly push Bridget together with Mr Wallaker at the end, who is essentially a less likeable Mark Darcy 2.0, with his ‘hard shell yet soft, loving centre’ and bags of cash… it just felt wrong. Let Bridget come into her own. Let her make a mess but then clean it up. She is more than capable of it, and doesn’t need a two-dimensional ‘misunderstood angry man’ to do it for her.  

Bridget Jones’ success is often attributed to how relatable the books and the character are to the audience. How well did you find yourself being able to relate to Bridget’s character and circumstances in this book?

Elen: While there were some aspects of Bridget’s character and observations that I could relate to, such as having one outfit which is the ONLY decent thing you own or the well remembered horror of nits, I found a lot of it I couldn’t connect to. Some of this was because I’m not a mum in her fifties but I also found the character hard to relate to as well because of her obsession with trying to fit in and be the best at what everyone else is doing. While this is a feeling that I think everyone relates to to some extent the way it was expressed through finding the perfect ‘airport outfit’ and going to a hip new club wasn’t meaningful to me (I’m 21 and I never want to set foot in a club again, doing it at 51 sounds more like my idea of hell than the fun night out Bridget made it out to be). Additionally Bridget’s clearly privileged lifestyle was something I think a lot of people might not connect to. She complains about how hard parenting on your own is and yet she has a full time nanny and cleaner and is very financially secure, not a luxury most people have available to them.

Kate: I think it’s quite hard as a 21 year old to totally relate to the experiences of a 51 year old single mother. But I think there are things about her character which are relatable – her fruitless quest to turn her life around and become the perfect mother/join the gym/clear out her wardrobe which she never ends up getting round to is probably the one the strike a nerve the most. I think most of us have this idea that one day we’ll get our butts into gear and become the flawless person of our fantasies, but in reality we never can be bothered to put in the effort.

Hayley: My mum also read this book when it came out, and I know there were lots of the parenting aspects that she related to. Particularly with the nits and having two vomiting children at the same time while my dad was at work. As a 21 year old I didn’t get that bit myself. But I did relate (particularly on the second reading as my life has changed in the two years since reading it the first time) to the anxieties of dating and heartbreak. Fielding’s descriptions and desires about dating (while exaggerated) ultimately are often what all of us think. I find that through the humour and the staging of the plot it is definitely something that everyone feels, the desire to be wanted, wanting to know whether you’re wanted, and a fear of being alone. Bridget is the accumulation of every person who dates. All the good parts, all the bad parts. So I think everyone can find something to relate to with Bridget.

Michelle: I definitely related to certain parts of Bridget’s life, such as finding yourself staring at a wardrobe full of clothes and yet only having one ‘decent’ outfit to wear out –  and I still find myself narrating my life as Bridget does in her diary on a daily basis, so something has clearly resonated…! That being said, Bridget leads a very privileged life, and while she has obviously gone through something very traumatic with Mark’s death, she doesn’t have to worry about the fundamentals like income or childcare, which for a lot of people are constant worries. This makes her seem to have a warped view of the world, as when she spends literally entire days wondering if her boyfriend will ever text her back – time that most people would spend working or caring for their children – her biggest concerns seem quite trivial.

How seriously did everyone take the storyline? For instance, is this just a typical rom-com or does it attempt to go into deeper aspects about getting over grief and heartbreak or single parenting?

Hayley: As a ‘typical’ rom-com I think it achieved its goals. At the beginning there were some elements of depth, but as the story went on it became shallower and shallower, become more about the need for a romantic relationship and dependency rather than how to work through something more serious.

Elen: I think early in the book there is some focus on coping with grief, not in the immediate aftermath but the continuing sense of it. However once we flashback to 2013 I found the book to become much more focused on the romance and Bridget’s various mishaps. As for parenting, while there are bits here and there I found the kids to mostly show up Bridget’s incompetence rather than provide insights into raising children. In general I couldn’t take the storyline too seriously, although that may just be because everything in Bridget’s world is slightly too exaggerated for me.

Kate: I think it’s kind of a mix of both. Obviously there is a decent amount of rom-com stuff, but it’s tempered by the very serious experience of grief and the parenting stories. I think for me I felt the ‘main’ storyline, and the one I was most invested in, was Bridget’s struggle to get her life back on track after Mark’s death – re-entering work, raising her children and dating was a part of that. I think often the funny aspects were tinged with a little bit of sadness and seriousness. I have to agree though with Elen that some of the later parts of the book were too exaggerated (Mr Wallaker lifting a car?! Really?!)

Michelle: This might sound strange, but my favourite parts of the book were seeing Bridget go through the stages of grief – feeling her pain, seeing her slowly recover only to relapse at the smallest reminder of Mark, showing us that grief is an ongoing thing that can’t be fixed overnight. These moments, especially with her kids and her worries about them not getting to grow up with their father, made my heart ache in the best way, and I think really showed Fielding’s gift as a writer beyond ‘funny, silly Bridget antics’. However, the book is mainly of the rom-com variety, which I did also enjoy (I found myself laughing on public transport on more than one occasion) but some of the situations Bridget got herself into were just a bit too ridiculous. Especially considering that she is now 51, and has had a lifetime of experience, there were some situations that I felt she would, by now, have had a firmer handle on then she does in the book. Of course she’s still allowed to make mistakes, as nobody’s perfect, but you do sometimes wonder if she’s retained any kind of knowledge from her previous experiences, in the ways she sometimes reacts and behaves.

Elen’s  rating: 2/5 stars

Hayley’s rating: 3/5 stars

Kate’s rating: 3/5 stars

Michelle: 3/5 stars

Average rating: 3/5 stars

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