"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review #37: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones and I are about the same age. When I was younger, I loved her. I don't know as I wanted to be her friend because she was a bit exasperating, but I loved her. I got her. I got the Daniel Cleaver thing. I got the Mark Darcy thing. It was like she understood every bit of angst there was at that time in my life.

Bridget has grown up, and so (allegedly) have I, and I still love her. Why? Because she still understands every bit of angst that there is my life. It's different angst, sure, but it's still there. Instead of worrying about how to catch Daniel's attention or whether she can risk wearing her giant granny panties on a date, she's worried about nits and her kids' grades and her job performance and where she left her glasses and how on Earth she's supposed to be responsible for the little people in her house when, quite frankly, it's difficult to remember to put on clean underwear some days. And I get that. I so get that. 

Bridget is single now, a widow actually. In a move that angered quite a lot of fans, so I don't think I'm spoiling anything here, Fielding killed off Mark Darcy. In true Mark Darcy fashion though, he died while in Darfur, helping the fight for human rights, because he's Mark Darcy and he's kind of amazing. The novel opens with Bridget just a couple of years past the accident that killed Mark, and she's a bit of a mess. She can't quite get the kids out the door in time for school, she's not nearly as put together as the other mums at school, and all of her cereal is stale. She certainly doesn't make the taste free organic, sugar free, gluten free, healthy cupcakes for the bake sale the way the other mums do. Some readers may find that it's tough to feel bad for Bridget; after all, Mark's life insurance money certainly helps and she has a part time nanny. But parenthood - in all its shapes and sizes - is a challenge, and even though I'm doing it without the nanny or the life insurance money, I wholeheartedly identified with Bridget and her feelings of inadequacy, of differentness. Who among us hasn't stood around at a school function wondering what on Earth we were doing there, and hoping against hope that none of the other parents recognized what a completely incompetent nincompoop we were?

The story traces some of Bridget's mad-cap adventures: she starts tweeting (and is a hot mess at it, which is one of the reasons I don't tweet. I kind of don't really understand Twitter), she signs up for some online dating services, and has a wild affair with a much, much younger man. But it's not the adventures, or the tweets, or the pretty decent sex she has with the younger man that's the point of the novel. It's Bridget learning how to be Bridget again. Actually, I think it's Bridget learning how to be okay with herself. It's her accepting that she's never going to be the mum who makes the organic cupcakes for the bake sale and understanding that that's perfectly okay. She loves her children and tries to do her best by them, and that's what makes a good parent, not whether she's prepared a from-scratch, all organic meal for the annual school picnic. It's her realizing that although she loves Mark with all her heart and always will, she also has room for more love. And it, a little bit, is her letting go of Mark, of realizing that she's still alive, that her children need her, and that life, as they say, must go on.

The other characters are a good balance to Bridget and her neuroses. Her older son is quiet and serious, although there are definite glimpses of a young mischievous boy.  In many ways, he's a lot like Mark, which is both heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. Her younger daughter is sweet and funny, the perfect comic relief to the sometimes heavy moments that steal in to the book unexpectedly. Bridget's mom is still hanging around, although her dad died some years ago. (I admit I cried at at that.) Bridget makes friends with the mum across the street, who, to Bridget's surprise, is every bit as unprepared for motherhood as she is. There are others, too - the young man Bridget begins dating, the music teacher at the school, some of Bridget's friends make an appearance or four. But the character that won me over, in the end, was that old rake, Daniel Cleaver. In the years since Mark died, Daniel has become a true friend to Bridget, and it was lovely to see him supporting her in a completely non-lecherous way. Don't worry, though. He still has his faults, and I'm not so sure I'd let him babysit, but it's obvious that he takes his role as Uncle Daniel quite seriously.

Life might not have turned out quite like Bridget thought it would - and really, does it turn out that way for any of us? - but she's doing the best she can. And in the end, that's all any of us can do. 

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