Lifestyle

Tuesday 29 July 2014

What next for our beloved Bridget Jones?

With Helen Fielding unleashing a third Bridget Jones novel, two readers wonder if the heroine's life has followed theirs

Bowing to Helen Fielding's talents, as I do personally, I have never been a Bridget Jones kind of gal. Even back in the 90s, when I was a stalwart serial monogamist, I felt she was an anachronism – an unrecognisably desperate construct to make "smug marrieds" smugger still.

Bowing to Helen Fielding's talents, as I do personally, I have never been a Bridget Jones kind of gal. Even back in the 90s, when I was a stalwart serial monogamist, I felt she was an anachronism – an unrecognisably desperate construct to make "smug marrieds" smugger still.

Now cheerily single, the news that the next instalment of her adventures, Mad About the Boy, will be published in October, 14 years after the last, fills me with raging incredulity. Surely Ms Jones is beyond anachronism and now positively prehistoric in a 21st Century in which almost a third of adult Britons choose to live alone, and the statistics are rising ever more fast and furiously?

The idea that anyone's life could be dismissed as an obsessive quest for Mr Right – in Bridget's case, barrister Mark Darcy – appears beyond fatuous. Instead, this is a golden age for those going solo, in which only the most gauche would ever deign to deploy the term 'singleton' and the lone life has never looked more utopian. Bridget and her sorority of neurotically man-hunting girls and gays are just soooo last century.

Across the water in the UK, the Office for National Statistics states that 2.5 million men and women aged between 45 and 64 live alone in their own homes. The number of sole occupants has risen by 833,000 in the past two decades, and there are expected to be two million more by 2020.

Singleness has gone beyond Fielding's and Sex and the City's hunting-for-the-one platitudes to become a material and philosophical state that individuals increasingly seek out. The lone life has changed.

But has its erstwhile poster girl? Fielding and her publishers are playing their cards close to their chests, but the signs are not promising. Jones's creator may maintain that "Bridget's life has moved on", but she's still "mad", even if the boy in question is no longer a potential suitor (and, let's face it, he probably is).

We are told that in the forthcoming book, she will be struggling with social media, internet dating and drunken tweeting. Honestly? Most of us were over that kind of stuff back when MySpace was the thing.

Today, virtual flirting is all about the etiquette of Chatroulette (in which strangers are hooked up to chat via their webcams) and erotic bouts of Skype-ing.

A Bridget who is self-loathing, squeezed into a pair of Spanx, angstily counting electronic cigarettes and obsessing over the 5:2 diet really ain't gonna cut it.

Today, a forty-something Ms Jones would either have a Pilates physique, or be too happily hedonistic to care. She would take her job seriously, but relish life beyond.

She would boast a core of single and married allies too sophisticated to make judgments based on the trivia of others' relationship statuses. She would be good friends with her exes, open to a relationship, but not in pursuit of one, and enjoy an active, non-angst-ridden sex life. Fielding's creation would be not "mad", but relishing her single prime. She would, in short, have grown up.

Actress Cynthia Nixon, aka the red-headed one in Sex and the City, this week said that she found it "devastating" that the series' purported happy ending saw its heroine Carrie presented with a walk-in wardrobe by Mr Big; a plot resolution that left many appalled at the time. Almost a decade after the show's finale, she demanded: "Is this what these women think true love is? A man who has enough money to buy you a walk-in closet?"

When one of the icons of 90s single hysteria admits to reservations about its message, it is surely time that culture moved on from the decade's more stultifying single stereotypes. Bridget, you have nothing to lose but your pains.

'SHE WOULDN'T HAVE TIME TO WRITE MORE THAN A TWEET'

Can I be the only one befuddled by the intense secrecy surrounding the plot of Helen Fielding's Mad About the Boy? For starters, who is this boy in the title? Could it be that there's a baby on the cards for everyone's favourite singleton?

Well, duh. In a 2006 newspaper column by Fielding that followed where The Edge of Reason, her most recent Bridget book, supposedly ended, she gives birth to a boy, conceived with Daniel Cleaver, her sleazy boss, not her more noble love interest, Mark Darcy.

If this comes to pass in the new book, it will be a triumph for the character. Fielding nailed the 1990s zeitgeist with her portrayal of the internal friction of a career woman told to ignore her ticking biological clock, but who constantly finds herself mugged by it.

Neurotic, at times pathetic and needy, yet rendered likable by her total honesty, Bridget won over her readers by despairing against – yet constantly yielding to – her hormonal drives, her alcoholic passions, her weight management issues, and her desire for popularity. As rebooted Jane Austen heroines go, hers was a winning formula, and one which Fielding only ever intended "to earn me some cash and make people laugh".

I was 23 when I read the first Bridget Jones novel. I recall vividly the description of Bridget attending her godson's birthday party as I waited for my first business cards to be printed.

Her acutely observed portrayal of mothers competing over their sons' Agpar scores and penis size was so cheek-freezingly funny that it rendered me unable to speak when the printer man appeared to tell me the ink was dry. And this was at a time when kids were v v not on my agenda.

Although I don't identify with Bridget at all, I've still grown up with her. She's been a big-sister figure whose private-life failures and professional pratfalls have been a warning of what not to do and how not to get ahead.

So I worry for the forty-something Bridget as a mother. As her creator became one of the "smug marrieds" that Bridget so despised – Fielding lived in a Los Angeles mansion for 10 years with her now ex-husband and two sons, born when she was 46 and 48 – can she possibly relate to the travails of normal British mums who don't have Jennifer Aniston as a neighbour?

While I want to be optimistic – parenting is the planet's greatest leveller, whether you live in Beverly Hills or Blackrock – a teaser line from the book certainly doesn't sound promising. Inspired by the many ways in which social media now gives us the potential to sabotage our relationships, Bridget's advice for the internet age is: "Don't text when drunk." Really? Is that the best she could offer?

Half-drunk texts and tweets are the stuff of modern motherhood. I should know; I'm as guilty of it as the next woman. Most of the stay-at-home parents I know spend their lives juggling toddler and BlackBerry, and come 5pm are reaching for the rosé. Bridget ought to be in her element.

But her diary surely cannot survive her transformation from "wanton sex goddess" to mother. With a small child, it would be unrealistic to suggest she would have the time to write anything more substantial than the occasional tweet.

As long as it isn't over-sentimentalised, the new book has the potential to be as divisive, pertinent and relevant as the first – perhaps even more hilarious. I just can't see it being much of a reflection of what it's really like to be a working mother.

Irish Independent

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