Fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones have spent the last 14 years waiting patiently for the third installment of the bumbling but lovable thirty-something heroine’s adventures. At the end of the last novel The Edge of Reason, Bridget is engaged to hunky barrister Mark Darcy, so readers have been looking forward to the next phase of her life: marriage and new motherhood. Who better than Bridget to navigate the modern silliness of Bridezilla culture, pregnancy paranoia and attachment parenting?
But instead of a delightfully playful rendition of early 40s angst, we got crushing disappointment. In the newly released Mad About the Boy, Fielding has forwarded the storyline so that Bridget is now 51, widowed with two kids, addicted to Twitter and has a 29-year-old “toy boy” named Roxster. But it gets worse. Mrs. “Cougar” Darcy obsesses about aging and Botox, is a distracted mother who repeatedly arrives late to pick up her kids from school, chats about farting with Roxster, drinks too much wine, chews too much Nicorette and overdraws her checking account.
After making fun of Smug Marrieds for the last two novels, we wanted to see the long-time singleton actually become one. We wanted to watch her write over-the-top wedding vows and deal with 40-year-old bridesmaids. We wanted to see her obsess about IVF injections or destroy her kitchen trying to puree organic baby food from impossibly expensive squash bought at the London farmer’s market.
The real disappointment isn’t that the Darcy is dead (even though it means no more Colin Firth in the movie versions), but that Bridget Jones hasn’t grown up. What made the younger Jones so endearing was that even though she fumbled and bumbled – even messing up her own engagement proposal – she was authentic and had heart, and we loved her for it. We also appreciated her voicing our secret fears about dying alone “eaten by wild dogs.” Remember when Darcy famously said, “I like you, just as you are”? Because we could forgive Bridget for all her antics and foibles, we could accept ourselves a little more.
But no one wants to identify with 50-year-old boy-crazy, texting maniac Bridget. It’s not adorable to still be freaking out about carrying a few extra pounds. It’s not funny to be unable to manage a checkbook at that age. Not only has Fielding treated us to the worst stereotypes of aging, she’s made them even more unbearable by having them reflected through Bridget’s self-indulgent, insecure prattle. “Why do I keep getting myself in such a mess?” she complains.
Bridget was supposed to have figured that out by now. Readers can accept that she didn’t get the fairytale ending. But if we have to deal with her being 50, we at least want to be rewarded with an Oprah-esque narrative of aging that embraces self-knowledge, self-respect and self-acceptance. In the earlier novels, we cheered when she tossed the sappy self-help books in the trash and gave Daniel Cleaver the heave-ho when he treated her poorly. By now, she was supposed to be even wiser. She was supposed to be better than this.