independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Take a deep breath for Bridget's comeback

She's the hapless heroine who spawned a thousand imitators. And now, 14 years later, Bridget Jones is back. But what can we expect from our favourite singleton? asks Claire Coughlan

High concept thriller Gone Girl may well be the publishing sensation of 2013, following hot on the heels of last year's Fifty Shades mania, but later this year, an old friend will reappear, much to the excitement of fans. Step forward Ms Bridget Jones – older and presumably none the wiser, but hopefully just as funny as when we last met her in 1999.

Although the new novel is under wraps, Helen Fielding did give readers a teaser in a statement issued by her new publisher, Jonathan Cape, late last year: "The new novel is set in present-day London, with an entirely new scenario for Bridget. If people laugh as much reading it as I am while writing it then we'll all be very happy."

Dan Franklin, publisher of Jonathan Cape, said: "Great comic writers are as rare as hen's teeth. Helen is one of a very select band who have created a character, Bridget, of whom the very thought just makes you smile. Like millions of others, I can't wait to see what's happened to her."

Bridget Jones's Diary started life as a weekly column in The Independent in 1995, charting the ups and downs of thirty-something single life in London during that era. Fielding has said that she was asked to write the column originally as herself, but her response was: "No, that's embarrassing." So she created the fictional alter ego Bridget Jones, although she always denied that the character was based on her own experiences.

The column was adapted into a novel in 1997 and both the first book and its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, were international bestsellers, published in over 40 countries and selling over 15 million copies worldwide.

The novels were then adapted for the big screen in 2001 and 2004, starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.

So what is it about the lovable but gaffe-prone Bridget that makes her so enduringly endearing?

Stephen Boylan, book purchasing manager for Eason's says that a lot of women saw themselves in the character.

"I think the perception was that Fielding had captured a certain point in a woman's life, but had done so in a very funny and down-to-earth way," he says.

"I think women could see a lot of themselves and/or their friends in Bridget and, as such, the character was very relatable. Also I think the diary format provided an intimacy and connection with the reader that perhaps other books at the time did not."

According to Stephen, the series did very well here in Ireland, and Eason's expects a lot of interest in the new title, even more so this time around.

Of course, women's fiction has evolved hugely since the late Nineties, incorporating much darker and deeper issues, so it'll be interesting to see if the Bridget creation has evolved alongside her fictional counterparts. Stephen says that women's fiction has definitely changed since Bridget's inception in the Nineties.

"Authors now regularly deal with subjects like depression, domestic abuse, and suicide in their books, and readers have really responded to this increased realism.

"The more traditional elements of 'women's fiction' are still very much present, but there is often now a strong counter-balance with current social issues that really adds to the genre."

Irish author Ella Griffin, whose wickedly funny, emotionally affecting second novel, The Heart Whisperer, is out now, is a big Fielding fan, but doesn't think the books belong in the 'chick-lit' genre.

"I don't think it's chick lit at all; I think it's fantastic social observation, and I think that it's a scathing attack of the plastic world that women are supposed to buy into and that we all do buy into, to some degree. There's been a huge rush of 'confessional' journalism and I think Helen Fielding started that, to some degree; just that feeling of opening up your entire life and not being fake."

Ella agrees that the Bridget character was very relatable, in a way that Sex and the City, which came out at around the same time, tried to be but just wasn't.

"I think the reason why Bridget Jones is so successful is also the reason why Marian [Keyes] is so successful, they both manage to express something very true about people," she says.

"In fiction, you're looking for something where you can say, 'yes, I've reacted like that, I've felt like that, I've had a dilemma like that.'

"They're the kind of things we only reveal to our really close friends."

The return of our old friend Bridget will certainly be an important date on the publishing calendar, but the bad news is that we have to wait until the autumn to get our Fielding fix.

"Gah," as Bridget might say.

Irish Independent

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