Bridget Jones broke on to the scene in the 1990s as a literary phenomenon, a 30-something singleton who won over hearts and minds of women across the world and some men too. Salman Rushdie called her "a brilliant comic creation" - a quote that still graces the jacket of the current iteration, 20 years on.
Helen Fielding's sequel, The Edge of Reason, saw Bridget travel on a madcap venture to South East Asia, and continue in her dogged pursuit of Mark Darcy. Then, to universal surprise (and disappointment), Bridget became a widow, with Mad About the Boy taking place after Darcy had died during an assignment abroad. Now she has returned, and in a smart sleight of hand, her story is set back in time from Darcy's death. She's not a widow but an impending mother, and brings with her an opportunity to rehabilitate her brand. Did Bridget change or did we? In a post-financial crisis world, her worries in this novel seem puny. There's something historical about the environment she lives in, harking back to an earlier, easier time.
She has a great job, despite being wildly unprofessional. She owns a flat in London, making her enviable and frankly rather wealthy. Darcy appears acting heroically on nightly news reels, Daniel Cleaver's face features on various TV programmes, and both of them spend the novel vying for her attention.
This Bridget is basically a VIP and an annoying one at that, taking away the key thing that made her compelling in the first place - likeability. In Bridget Jones's Baby: The Diaries we meet a weird caricature of the 1996 charmer, whose character is written like a parody of a rom-com film. Over the past 20 years Bridget has apparently lived in a cocoon isolated from politics or anything else to do with realism or life. When she bumps into a pregnant woman on the street, before her own pregnancy, she exclaims, "Right, excellent, jolly good," as though it's something English people have been heard to say any time in the past half-century.
As an adult close to 40, her whimsy has become silly, and her remarks about other women seem judgemental, sexist or mean. She describes Darcy's ex, Natasha, as an "uptight stick-insect lawyer woman." "Smug marrieds" have become "smug mothers". Bridget's worries about her biological clock loom as though feminism had never hinted at the possibility of life without children. That brings us to the men, the love interests in this story. Neither of the two is very appealing and Cleaver, in particular, is without a whiff of charm.
The book is not without moments of interest. At an event for which her friend Tom is not on the list, when there is a brief altercation with the people at the door, Bridget notes that eventually, "The twenty-somethings, terrified, waved us through," an entitled nod at a generation that has come into being since Book 1.
Earlier on in Bridget Jones's Baby: The Diaries, Bridget reads a paragraph from her original diary. It's hard not to feel nostalgia not just for the Bridget of that earlier time but for the supple writing, full characterisation, and intelligent wit that went with her. Like Sex and the City, another 1990s phenomenon, with too many sequels, Bridget has had her day. Luckily we don't need to wonder what happens next.