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Bridget Jones First came to public attention in Helen Fielding's hugely popular fictional diary in the Independent newspaper. In this novel based on her creation, Fielding offers us a brilliantly funny picaresque tale: a year in the life of a girl determined to 'have it all' - the second she's finished this cigarette and phoned Shazzer.
I had heard of it.
Well, I was hooked immediately. And who wouldn't be? As Salman Rushdie's jacket blurb proclaims, "Even men will laugh." But it does seem to have become a women's book -- women who have dreamed about a kick-ass job, a choice figure, a cool boyfriend; women who have ever wanted to shop at posher stores, quit smoking, win the lottery, be free of their mothers while still having their support; women who have ever laughed at another's misfortune, who have ever loved a friend through humiliations. Women everywhere will find something familiar in this book, even if only a small thing: The friend who gave me the book recognized Bridget's frustration as she proposed weekend getaways to her boyfriend, who refused to plan anything in advance (the weekend was a disaster). A thing like that.
Fielding's book is a year in the life of Bridget Jones, from New Year's Day to Boxing Day. Single, 30-something Bridget keeps a down-to-the-minute journal of her thoughts, ideas, and obsessions. She tracks her daily intake of cigarettes, calories, lottery tickets, 1471 calls (that's *69 to you and me), negative thoughts. She seeks a weight of 8 1/2 stone (OK, some terms might baffle American readers) and Inner Poise. She confides in us, along with her friends, Sharon and Jude and "hag fag" Tom, about her affair with the boss (some Americans might also stumble over the blatant sexual harassment that's considered charming here in Europe, even if Bridget recognizes it as such and enjoys it), her pregnancy scare, her resentment of the "Smug Marrieds," and her mother's relentless efforts to set her up with a rich argyle-clad friend-of-the-family.
Bridget's voice and her diary shorthand are appealing and compelling; she manages to reveal a lot of intelligence and wit while focusing almost entirely on her weaknesses. On Saturday, August 12th, for example, having recently caught her boyfriend with a "bronzed giantess" and with a job interview looming, Bridget writes, "129 lbs. (still in very good cause), alcohol units 3 (v.g.), cigarettes 32 (v.v. bad, particularly since first day of giving up), calories 1,800 (g.), lottery tickets 4 (fair), no. of serious current affairs articles read 1.5, 1471 calls 22 (OK), minutes spent having cross imaginary conversations with Daniel 120 (v.g.), minutes spent imagining Daniel begging me to come back 90 (excellent)." At 8:35am she writes "No fags all day. Excellent." At 4:45pm, an old boyfriend calls with news of his engagement: "No-smoking policy in tatters.... Exes should never, never go out with or marry other people but should remain celibate to the end of their days in order to provide you with a mental fallback position.... Ugh. Have just smoked entire packet of Silk Cut as act of self-annihilating existential despair. Hope they both become obese and have to be lifted out of the window by crane."
Bridget's escapades are hilariously pathetic. She holds a dinner party designed to impress her date -- the menu is choked with veloutés and coulis and confits -- and ends up making her guests an omelet with the disastrous remains of the food. I dare anyone to say they've never gotten behind the eight ball like that. This exposé of human foibles has universal appeal -- after all, it's not just women who screw up dinner parties. And of course, Bridget does not represent all women, identify as we may with bits and pieces of her. Her story, though, lightheartedly reveals the frailties and the possibilities that are in all of us.
Laura Jofré is a freelance writer and reviewer living in London.
Food consumed today:
2 pkts Emmenthal cheese slices
14 cold new potatoes
2 Bloody Marys (count as food as contain Worcester sauce and tomatoes)
1/3 Ciabatta loaf with Brie
coriander leaves--1/2 packet
12 Milk Tray (best to get rid of all Christmas confectionery in one go and make fresh start tomorrow)
13 cocktail sticks securing cheese and pineapple
Portion Una Alconbury's turkey curry, peas and bananas
Portion Una Alconbury's Raspberry Surprise made with Bourbon biscuits, tinned raspberries, eight gallons of
whipped cream, decorated with glacé cherries and angelica.
Noon. London: my flat. Ugh. The last thing on earth I feel physically, emotionally or mentally equipped to do is drive to Una and Geoffrey Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet in Grafton Underwood. Geoffrey and Una Alconbury are my parents' best friends and, as Uncle Geoffrey never tires of reminding me, have known me since I was running round the lawn with no clothes on. My mother rang up at 8:30 in the morning last August Bank Holiday and forced me to promise to go. She approached it via a cunningly circuitous route.
"Oh, hello, darling. I was just ringing to see what you wanted for Christmas."
"Would you like a surprise, darling?"
"No!" I bellowed. "Sorry. I mean ..."
"I wondered if you'd like a set of wheels for your suitcase."
"But I haven't got a suitcase."
"Why don't I get you a little suitcase with wheels attached. You know, like air hostesses have."
"I've already got a bag."
"Oh, darling, you can't go around with that tatty green canvas thing. You look like some sort of Mary Poppins person who's fallen on hard times. Just a little compact case with a pull-out handle. It's amazing how much you can get in. Do you want it in navy on red or red on navy?"
"Mum. It's eight-thirty in the morning. It's summer. It's very hot. I don't want an air-hostess bag."
"Julie Enderby's got one. She says she never uses anything else."
"Who's Julie Enderby?"
"You know Julie, darling! Mavis Enderby's daughter. Julie! The one that's got that super-dooper job at Arthur Andersen ..."
"Always takes it on her trips ..."
"I don't want a little bag with wheels on."
"I'll tell you what. Why don't Jamie, Daddy and I all club together and get you a proper new big suitcase and a set of wheels?"
Exhausted, I held the phone away from my ear, puzzling about where the missionary luggage-Christmas-gift zeal had stemmed from. When I put the phone back she was saying: "... in actual fact, you can get them with a compartment with bottles for your bubble bath and things. The other thing I thought of was a shopping cart."
"Is there anything you'd like for Christmas?" I said desperately, blinking in the dazzling Bank Holiday sunlight.
"No, no," she said airily. "I've got everything I need. Now, darling," she suddenly hissed, "you will be coming to Geoffrey and Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet this year, won't you?"
"Ah. Actually, I ..." I panicked wildly. What could I pretend to be doing? "... think I might have to work on New Year's Day."
"That doesn't matter. You can drive up after work. Oh, did I mention? Malcolm and Elaine Darcy are coming and bringing Mark with them. Do you remember Mark, darling? He's one of those top-notch barristers. Masses of money. Divorced. It doesn't start till eight."
Oh God. Not another strangely dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a side-part. "Mum, I've told you. I don't need to be fixed up with ..."
"Now come along, darling. Una and Geoffrey have been holding the New Year buffet since you were running round the lawn with no clothes on! Of course you're going to come. And you'll be able to use your new suitcase."
11:45 p.m. Ugh. First day of New Year has been day of horror. Cannot quite believe I am once again starting the year in a single bed in my parents' house. It is too humiliating at my age. I wonder if they'll smell it if I have a fag out of the window. Having skulked at home all day, hoping hangover would clear, I eventually gave up and set off for the Turkey Curry Buffet far too late. When I got to the Alconburys' and rang their entire-tune-of-town-hall-clock-style doorbell I was still in a strange world of my own--nauseous, vile-headed, acidic. I was also suffering from road-rage residue after inadvertently getting on to the M6 instead of the M1 and having to drive halfway to Birmingham before I could find anywhere to turn round. I was so furious I kept jamming my foot down to the floor on the accelerator pedal to give vent to my feelings, which is very dangerous. I watched resignedly as Una Alconbury's form--intriguingly deformed through the ripply glass door--bore down on me in a fuchsia two-piece.
"Bridget! We'd almost given you up for lost! Happy New Year! Just about to start without you." She seemed to manage to kiss me, get my coat off, hang it over the banister, wipe her lipstick off my cheek and make me feel incredibly guilty all in one movement, while I leaned against the ornament shelf for support.
"Sorry. I got lost."
"Lost? Durr! What are we going to do with you? Come on in!"
She led me through the frosted-glass doors into the lounge, shouting, "She got lost, everyone!"
"Bridget! Happy New Year!" said Geoffrey Alconbury, clad in a yellow diamond-patterned sweater. He did a jokey Bob Hope step then gave me the sort of hug which Boots would send straight to the police station.
"Hahumph," he said, going red in the face and pulling his trousers up by the waistband. "Which junction did you come off at?"
"Junction nineteen, but there was a diversion ..."
"Junction nineteen! Una, she came off at Junction nineteen! You've added an hour to your journey before you even started. Come on, let's get you a drink. How's your love life, anyway?"
Oh God. Why can't married people understand that this is no longer a polite question to ask? We wouldn't rush up to them and roar, "How's your marriage going? Still having sex?" Everyone knows that dating in your thirties is not the happy-go-lucky free-for-all it was when you were twenty-two and that the honest answer is more likely to be, "Actually, last night my married lover appeared wearing suspenders and a darling little Angora crop-top, told me he was gay/a sex addict/a narcotic addict/a commitment phobic and beat me up with a dildo," than, "Super, thanks." Not being a natural liar, I ended up mumbling shamefacedly to Geoffrey, "Fine," at which point he boomed, "So you still haven't got a feller!"
"Bridget! What are we going to do with you!" said Una. "You career girls! I don't know! Can't put it off forever, you know. Tick-tock-tick-tock."
"Yes. How does a woman manage to get to your age without being married?" roared Brian Enderby (married to Mavis, used to be president of the Rotary in Kettering), waving his sherry in the air. Fortunately my dad rescued me.
"I'm very pleased to see you, Bridget," he said, taking my arm. "Your mother has the entire Northamptonshire constabulary poised to comb the county with toothbrushes for your dismembered remains. Come and demonstrate your presence so I can start enjoying myself. How's the be-wheeled suitcase?"
"Big beyond all sense. How are the ear-hair clippers?"
"Oh, marvelously--you know--clippy."
It was all right, I suppose. I would have felt a bit mean if I hadn't turned up, but Mark Darcy ... Yuk. Every time my mother's rung up for weeks it's been, "Of course you remember the Darcys, darling. They came over when we were living in Buckingham and you and Mark played in the paddling pool!" or, "Oh! Did I mention Malcolm and Elaine are bringing Mark with them to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet? He's just back from America, apparently. Divorced. He's looking for a house in Holland Park. Apparently he had the most terrible time with his wife. Japanese. Very cruel race."
Then next time, as if out of the blue, "Do you remember Mark Darcy, darling? Malcolm and Elaine's son? He's one of these super-dooper top-notch lawyers. Divorced. Elaine says he works all the time and he's terribly lonely. I think he might be coming to Una's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet, actually."
I don't know why she didn't just come out with it and say, "Darling, do shag Mark Darcy over the turkey curry, won't you? He's very rich."
"Come along and meet Mark," Una Alconbury singsonged before I'd even had time to get a drink down me. Being set up with a man against your will is one level of humiliation, but being literally dragged into it by Una Alconbury while caring for an acidic hangover, watched by an entire roomful of friends of your parents, is on another plane altogether.
The rich, divorced-by-cruel-wife Mark--quite tall--was standing with his back to the room, scrutinizing the contents of the Alconburys' bookshelves: mainly leather-bound series of books about the Third Reich, which Geoffrey sends off for from Reader's Digest. It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting "Cathy" and banging your head against a tree.
"Mark!" said Una, as if she was one of Santa Claus's fairies. "I've got someone nice for you to meet."
He turned round, revealing that what had seemed from the back like a harmless navy sweater was actually a V-neck diamond-patterned in shades of yellow and blue--as favored by the more elderly of the nation's sports reporters. As my friend Tom often remarks, it's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a gray slip-on shoe, a swastika, are as often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner.
"Mark, this is Colin and Pam's daughter, Bridget," said Una, going all pink and fluttery. "Bridget works in publishing, don't you, Bridget?"
"I do indeed," I for some reason said, as if I were taking part in a Capital radio phone-in and was about to ask Una if I could "say hello" to my friends Jude, Sharon and Tom, my brother Jamie, everyone in the office, my mum and dad, and last of all all the people at the Turkey Curry Buffet.
"Well, I'll leave you two young people together," said Una. "Durr! I expect you're sick to death of us old fuddy-duddies."
"Not at all," said Mark Darcy awkwardly with a rather unsuccessful attempt at a smile, at which Una, after rolling her eyes, putting a hand to her bosom and giving a gay tinkling laugh, abandoned us with a toss of her head to a hideous silence.
"I. Um. Are you reading any, ah ... Have you read any good books lately?" he said.
Oh, for God's sake.
I racked my brain frantically to think when I last read a proper book. The trouble with working in publishing is that reading in your spare time is a bit like being a dustman and snuffling through the pig bin in the evening. I'm halfway through Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which Jude lent me, but I didn't think Mark Darcy, though clearly odd, was ready to accept himself as a Martian quite yet. Then I had a brainwave.
"Backlash, actually, by Susan Faludi," I said triumphantly. Hah! I haven't exactly read it as such, but feel I have as Sharon has been ranting about it so much. Anyway, completely safe option as no way diamond-pattern-jumpered goody-goody would have read five-hundred-page feminist treatise.
"Ah. Really?" he said. "I read that when it first came out. Didn't you find there was rather a lot of special pleading?"
"Oh, well, not too much ...," I said wildly, racking my brains for a way to get off the subject. "Have you been staying with your parents over New Year?"
"Yes," he said eagerly. "You too?"
"Yes. No. I was at a party in London last night. Bit hungover, actually." I gabbed nervously so that Una and Mum wouldn't think I was so useless with men I was failing to talk to even Mark Darcy. "But then I do think New Year's resolutions can't technically be expected to begin on New Year's Day, don't you? Since, because it's an extension of New Year's Eve, smokers are already on a smoking roll and cannot be expected to stop abruptly on the stroke of midnight with so much nicotine in the system. Also dieting on New Year's Day isn't a good idea as you can't eat rationally but really need to be free to consume whatever is necessary, moment by moment, in order to ease your hangover. I think it would be much more sensible if resolutions began generally on January the second."
"Maybe you should get something to eat," he said, then suddenly bolted off toward the buffet, leaving me standing on my own by the bookshelf while everybody stared at me, thinking, "So that's why Bridget isn't married. She repulses men."
The worst of it was that Una Alconbury and Mum wouldn't leave it at that. They kept making me walk round with trays of gherkins and glasses of cream sherry in a desperate bid to throw me into Mark Darcy's path yet again. In the end they were so crazed with frustration that the second I got within four feet of him with the gherkins Una threw herself across the room like Will Carling and said, "Mark, you must take Bridget's telephone number before you go, then you can get in touch when you're in London."
I couldn't stop myself turning bright red. I could feel it climbing up my neck. Now Mark would think I'd put her up to it.
"I'm sure Bridget's life in London is quite full enough already, Mrs. Alconbury," he said. Humph. It's not that I wanted him to take my phone number or anything, but I didn't want him to make it perfectly obvious to everyone that he didn't want to. As I looked down I saw that he was wearing white socks with a yellow bumblebee motif.
"Can't I tempt you with a gherkin?" I said, to show I had had a genuine reason for coming over, which was quite definitely gherkin-based rather than phone-number-related.
"Thank you, no," he said, looking at me with some alarm.
"Sure? Stuffed olive?" I pressed on.
"Silverskin onion?" I encouraged. "Beetroot cube?"
"Thank you," he said desperately, taking an olive.
"Hope you enjoy it," I said triumphantly.
Toward the end I saw him being harangued by his mother and Una, who marched him over toward me and stood just behind while he said stiffly, "Do you need driving back to London? I'm staying here but I could get my car to take you."
"What, all on its own?" I said.
He blinked at me.
"Durr! Mark has a company car and a driver, silly," said Una.
"Thank you, that's very kind," I said. "But I shall be taking one of my trains in the morning." 2 a.m. Oh, why am I so unattractive? Why? Even a man who wears bumblebee socks thinks I am horrible. Hate the New Year. Hate everyone. Except Daniel Cleaver. Anyway, have got giant tray-sized bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk left over from Christmas on dressing table, also amusing joke gin and tonic miniature. Am going to consume them and have fag.
130 lbs. (terrifying slide into obesity--why? why?), alcohol units 6 (excellent), cigarettes 23 (v.g.), calories 2472. 9 a.m. Ugh. Cannot face thought of going to work. Only thing which makes it tolerable is thought of seeing Daniel again, but even that is inadvisable since am fat, have spot on chin, and desire only to sit on cushion eating chocolate and watching Xmas specials. It seems wrong and unfair that Christmas, with its stressful and unmanageable financial and emotional challenges, should first be forced upon one wholly against one's will, then rudely snatched away just when one is starting to get into it. Was really beginning to enjoy the feeling that normal service was suspended and it was OK to lie in bed as long as you want, put anything you fancy into your mouth, and drink alcohol whenever it should chance to pass your way, even in the mornings. Now suddenly we are all supposed to snap into self-discipline like lean teenage greyhounds.
10 p.m. Ugh. Perpetua, slightly senior and therefore thinking she is in charge of me, was at her most obnoxious and bossy, going on and on to the point of utter boredom about latest half-million-pound property she is planning to buy with her rich-but-overbred boyfriend, Hugo: "Yars, yars, well it is north-facing but they've done something frightfully clever with the light."
I looked at her wistfully, her vast, bulbous bottom swathed in a tight red skirt with a bizarre three-quarter-length striped waistcoat strapped across it. What a blessing to be born with such Sloaney arrogance. Perpetua could be the size of a Renault Espace and not give it a thought. How many hours, months, years, have I spent worrying about weight while Perpetua has been happily looking for lamps with porcelain cats as bases around the Fulham Road? She is missing out on a source of happiness, anyway. It is proved by surveys that happiness does not come from love, wealth or power but the pursuit of attainable goals: and what is a diet if not that?
On way home in end-of-Christmas denial I bought a packet of cut-price chocolate tree decorations and a £3.69 bottle of sparkling wine from Norway, Pakistan or similar. I guzzled them by the light of the Christmas tree, together with a couple of mince pies, the last of the Christmas cake and some Stilton, while watching Eastenders, imagining it was a Christmas special.
Now, though, I feel ashamed and repulsive. I can actually feel the fat splurging out from my body. Never mind. Sometimes you have to sink to a nadir of toxic fat envelopment in order to emerge, phoenix-like, from the chemical wasteland as a purged and beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer figure. Tomorrow new Spartan health and beauty regime will begin.
Mmmm. Daniel Cleaver, though. Love his wicked dissolute air, while being v. successful and clever. He was being v. funny today, telling everyone about his aunt thinking the onyx kitchen-roll holder his mother had given her for Christmas was a model of a penis. Was really v. amusing about it. Also asked me if I got anything nice for Christmas in rather flirty way. Think might wear short black skirt tomorrow....
Helen Fielding: We are in high spirits, in more sense than one. We just found out that we hit the New York Times bestseller list, and we just came from the Rainbow Room celebrating. It is great to be here.
Helen Fielding: Of course I am not Bridget Jones. I never drink, I never smoke, and I am a virgin.
Helen Fielding: Well, lots of things. I will give you highlights. She goes to Bangkok on holiday and meets this gorgeous stranger, Jed. Unaccountably, all of their possessions are stolen. Jed comes to the rescue and gives them tickets, money, and even a little bag. At the airport, Bridget is stopped. The lining of the bag is stuffed with cocaine. She is put in a Bangkok jail, and who should rescue her but Mark Darcy.
Helen Fielding: So glad you liked the book. I don't know why so long. But it was ages before New York publishers were interested. Then one week they suddenly all got interested at once. And what finally clinched the deal with Viking was that my editor, Tom Dorman, sent me a pair of Walford Velvet tights, and she knew that Bridget had such trouble with tights. The real clincher was that they were in a size small.
Helen Fielding: Hurrah! At least I know one person will come. The thing is the columns are not exactly the same as the book. They were behind the book. So it took a long time for Mark and Bridget to get together. In the sequel, which I hope to finish this year, you see Mark and Bridget starting off together, falling on from the end of the book and then find out what exactly happened.
Helen Fielding: We changed very little, apart from the potatoes. The thing that has surprised and delighted me is how universal Bridget's feelings seem to be. I think the feeling of trying to be perfect in so many areas; from the gym to the board meeting to cooking a superb dinner for 12 without smudging your mascara, then ending up when the guests arrive in your underwear with wet hair and one foot in a mashed potato seem to be universal.
Helen Fielding: I hope you are not suggesting that I am about to break up.
Helen Fielding: I never said that about Gwyneth Paltrow. She is very lovely but a little bit on the thin and young side for Bridget. The other day I saw a girl working out in the gym, reading a magazine for a really quite long time without making any attempt to use the equipment. She will be my perfect Bridget.
Helen Fielding: Maybe because she is fictional. She can admit to terrible things that go on a bit in lots of our lives but we would never dream of admitting to. Maybe it is quite nice to realize you can be human, but still quite lovable.
Helen Fielding: I cannot believe you have not experienced Milk Tray. They are delicious, milky, almondy, chocolate selections made by Cadbury, and the real beauty is that I always believe they contain no calories whatsoever. Emmenthal cheese slices are Swiss cheese sliced into delicious slices. Again I believe they are calorie free, despite what it says on the packet.
Helen Fielding: "Emotional fuckwittage" is an expression coined by one of my friends on the night when her boyfriend stood her up for relationship counseling. I hope that gives you an idea of what it means.
Helen Fielding: Initially, people said they would not like Bridget here in America, because everyone was so positive. But the response from women in the offices that I have been to and readings has been fantastic. I see women in New York looking so hairdoed and beautifully suited and imported looking and yet so worried, and I wonder if maybe they too took 40 minutes to find a pair of tights that was not tied into a knot, full of holes, or with a crotch six inches below where it should be, that very morning.
Helen Fielding: I couldn't agree with you more. And obviously I will be the iron woman and poised and cool ice queen and force everyone to listen to my marvelous opinions on the matter.
Helen Fielding: Tim! You are right. She really must start to loosen up and maybe drink a little more.
Helen Fielding: It was THE INFORMATION. I met Martin Amis and Joanna Trollope once, and they were very nice. Nick Hornby is an old friend. We met before either of us had written a book. And now we find it all quite surreal.
Helen Fielding: Surely not, what a horrible idea, but I am so pleased that you loved the book. Thank you!
Helen Fielding: Hurrah! She is my soul sister too. I was asked to write a column for the newspaper I worked for as myself, but I thought that was too exposing and embarrassing, so I made up an exaggerated character, and now everyone thinks she is me anyway. Which is worse.
Helen Fielding: I saw one episode of "Ally" and loved it. But I think she is a bit too thin for Bridget. Of course, pop culture comparisons deeply offend me. In Italy, they said it was a transcendental study of existential despair and very profound, and only the Italians understand this.
Helen Fielding: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen because a) Loved Mr. Darcy b) love Jane c) Stole plot for BRIDGET JONES d)Love Mr. Darcy.
Helen Fielding: Wish I was coming too. Do they have cowboys there? Saw Colin Firth at a party, and he agreed to keep the next three years free for the film. Stop, I think. Stop.
Helen Fielding: Knowing Bridget, she would probably choose Will Self because he does not like her.
Helen Fielding: Actually, my first novel was set in a refugee camp in the Sudan. Unfortunately, however, nobody bought that one.
Helen Fielding: Yes, in the Telegraph in London and well maybe, I hope so, here in the States...
Helen Fielding: It annoyed me the time that Bridget got 13 Valentine cards and I only got one.
Helen Fielding: I interviewed Colin Firth in Rome. I was pretending to be Bridget, and he was pretending to be Mr. Darcy. We ended up in front of the statue of Moses, who we both agreed was clearly gay, murmuring Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy. It was weird but strangely delicious.
Helen Fielding: Ding Dong! Hey Mike.
Helen Fielding: Jane Austen, Armistead Maupin, and Nick Hornby.
Helen Fielding: I get the ideas either from myself or what I see around me, or often friends give me ideas. The other day I was walking to work in a miniskirt and leather coat. I realized the skirt had ridden up to my waist. Naturally I pulled it down, but I thought had I been Bridget, I would not have realized and would have gone to work, straight into a meeting, taken off my coat and stood there without a skirt. And that is kind of how she works, really.
Helen Fielding: I love Barnes & Noble and have a crush on several of their New York salesmen. Perhaps a warm heart and a sense of humor ought to count for as much as a bottom like two billiard balls.
An Introduction to Bridget Jones's Diary (as if you really need one):
Single, thirty-something career woman Bridget Jones has taken the best-seller lists by storm -- much to her creator's surprise -- and entered the English language and psyche. As Newsweek put it, "Ally McBeal better watch her scrawny little back -- Bridget Jones is coming to America." Too thin and upwardly mobile, Ally nevertheless shares with Bridget an obsessive, slightly paranoid preoccupation with her love life (or lack thereof), which proves the point: Bridget lives in all of us. She is every woman who has ever looked in the mirror and groaned, resolved to Do Something About It (whether via gym membership, slashing caloric intake, or marshaling Inner Resources), and kicked off the new program in a fattening or embarrassingly public manner.
As Helen Fielding puts it for this Guide, "Bridget's battling with two different ideas. One is the image of the Cosmo Girl, that she should be living this great, independent life full of friends and glamorous dinner parties. The second is the old fashioned idea of failure: that if you're not married by thirty, you'll die alone and be found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian."
So what'll it be: tragic, barren spinsterhood, or relegation to the dull, diaper-and-coordinated-pasta-container-filled realm of the Smug Marrieds?
Take the following quiz to see where you fit on the Bridget-O-Meter. Have you ever:
Helen Fielding was born in an industrial town in the north of England, studied at Oxford University, and went on to work in television at the BBC. Her first novel, Cause Celeb, was based on her experience while filming documentaries in Africa for Comic Relief. She now lives in London, after a spell as a newspaper journalist, and is hard at work on the sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary. She is also working on the screenplay for the book, which is being made into a feature film by the producers of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Surely you know better than to ask whether she's married.
Did anything in particular strike you about the reaction of American readers?
I was very surprised that the book took off in America. Before I left, there was an open letter in the paper saying "Don't go there, they won't get it, Americans don't understand irony and self-deprecation." There's a strong culture of self-improvement in America, which is both good and bad. The idea of getting up at five and whizzing from the gym to the board meeting, of getting your bottom down to size and suddenly deciding your soul needs work. I think it's rather a joyless way of being for women, but it seems to have infected us on a global scale. I think that's what people latched on to most.
Why did you write Bridget as a diary?
The best advice I ever had about writing was to do it as if you were writing for a friend. The diary form's very good for that, very direct and intimate. Because it's an imaginary character, you can hide behind a persona. It also allows you to write the sort of shameful thoughts that everyone has but no one wants to admit to, since you're not trying to make anyone like you. A diary is an outlet for your most private thoughts, a very personal way of writing. And that feeling of peeping behind a curtain at someone's else's life is good for a reader.
Will the sequel also be in diary form?
What percentage of your readership do you think is male?
I have no idea, but I do know that there seem to more male readers now. I think lots of people have been given it by their girlfriends, who say, "If you want to understand how women's minds work, read this." When I was writing the column, many men wrote in who thought Bridget was real. One wrote a letter to the editor which read: "Dear Sir, I would quite like to shag Bridget Jones. Could you please let me have her phone number? Many thanks. Yours faithfully." It was quite formal.
Have men actually learned from it?
Smug Marrieds have, because nobody asks me whether I'm married any more. And no more patronizing comments from my married friends; their attitudes really have changed. It sounds rude to go to a Smug Married and say, "How's your marriage going, still having sex?", but not to go up to a Singleton and say, "How's your love life?" It's great if people realize that there isn't just one way to live. That's an old-fashioned concept, and I think it's losing its grip on us. Life in cities is very similar all over the world, and people do tend to live in urban families as much as in nuclear ones. They're not worse off or better off; the point is that it's no longer abnormal to be single.
One of the pleasures of reading Bridget is the vocabulary you invented. Do you have a favorite word or phrase?
I'm very pleased about the word "singleton," which of course wasn't my word. A friend made it up for a party: "singleton's in one hotel, marrieds in another!" "Spinster" is horrible, with connotations of spinning wheels failure. "Singleton's" a good word, and it applies to both men and women
Any new coinages?
Yes, "mentionitis." It's that thing where you can tell someone has a crush on someone because their name keeps coming up in the conversation, completely irrelevantly.
In the event that Bridget joins the ranks of the Marrieds, what aspects of matrimony would you like to tackle?
I'm not sure whether she'll do that, but it's an interesting area. I'm going to look at the reason why men and women do find it difficult to be together, as roles change. Jane Austen was also writing about dating, but in her day the rules were very clear, whereas now it's a quagmire of bluff and counterbluff. Everyone's so busy playing it cool, discussing the next maneuver with their friends, it a miracle that people manage to get together at all.
Is smugness an inevitable component of married life?
No, not at all. I just think that it's very easy for one group of people to decide that their way of living is the right way, and it's always a mistake for people to do that. No one ever knows what's around the corner.
A review in Entertainment Weekly described the book as "subversive." Was that your intent?
I'd use ironic rather than subversive. You can't really explain irony, either. Either you think it's funny or you don't. One of may favorite parts of the book is when Bridget declares, "There's nothing quite so unattractive to a man as a strident feminist."
Would you call Bridget a heroine or an anti-heroine?
I think Bridget's an ironic heroine.
How strong is the link is between economic self-sufficiency and emotional well-being for women?
Austen did say the only thing that renders a single women pitiable is poverty, in Emma, I think. Now it's no longer necessary to be married in order to be well off. I think it has to do with others' perceptions. People who feel sorry for single women tend to feel less so if the women are wealthy, but of course that doesn't mean the women are happier. I just think it's a good idea not to be bigoted.
Do you think women's aspirations have changed substantially in the last few decades?
Yes, things have changed hugely. Roles have shifted enormously, in terms of economic power for one thing. In relation to Bridget, the book is really about trying too hard, trying to be too perfect, and sort of missing the point that what makes Bridget appealing is that she's fun, she's nice, she's a good friend. She's just normal and that's fine. We sometimes lose sight of that alongside the qualities of having it all: a job, a briefcase, a bottom like two snooker balls.
How do you feel about the reviews which felt the book was an "insult to feminism"?
I can quite see that if you're not keen on irony as a form of expression, the book might get on your nerves. It was initially written to make people laugh. If it raises some issues that strike a nerve, so much the better. Novels are there to reflect the truth in what they see, as well as to entertain.
Can feminism encompass comic heroines?
There are so many male comic heroes. Take Bertie Wooster, from P. G. Wodehouse -- we don't take him as a symbol as a state of manhood. We've got to be able to have comic heroines without being so terribly anxious about what it says. We're not equal if we're not allowed to laugh at ourselves.. Maybe it's to do with confidence, since being able to laugh at yourself is a mark of it.
The book is dedicated to your mum, "for not being like Bridget's." What piece of advice might you give to mothers around the world?
I think when your daughter says, "I have to go now, Mum," not to bring up seventeen irrelevant things. The only thing I sometimes pinch off my mum is her turn of phrase. She did say to the [condescending] tax man, "Listen can you make good brioche?" -- Ashton Applewhite
-- USA Today
"Bridget Jones is channeling something so universal and (horrifyingly) familiar that readers will giggle and sigh with collective delight."
"Hilarious but poignant."
-- The Washington Post
"Bridget's voice is dead-on . . . will cause readers to drop the book, grope frantically for the phone, and read it out loud to their best girlfriends."
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer
"This juicy diary tells the truth with a verve as appealing to men on Mars as it is to Venusian women. A."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"Newspaper columnist Fielding's first effort, a bestseller in Britain, lives up to the hype: This year in the life of a single women is closely observed and laugh-out-loud funny . . . Fielding's diarist raises prickly insecurities to an art form, turns bad men into good anecdotes, and shows that it is possible to have both a keen eye for irony and a generous heart."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Even men will laugh."
-- Salman Rushdie
"Good-bye Rules Girls, hello Singletons . . . Endearingly engaging."
-- The New York Times Book Review
"Fielding . . . has rummaged all too knowingly through the bedrooms, closets, hearts and minds of women everywhere."
A big Jane Austen fan, Helen Fielding cheerfully admits she "pillaged her plot" from Pride and Prejudice. She's modeling the sequel on Persuasion -- how about reading it in preparation?
If you haven't read this book-- it's a must-- it's a classic early version of Chick Flick. This is an outrageously funny book and yet sincere in it's look at the inside view of a gal with a few extra lbs and being single in the 90's. Still a national best seller. It is so much fun for anyone who tries to lose weight or is on a diet (isn't that all of us) in the course of the book she loses 72 lbs and gains 74 -- hilarious or is it? A droll sense of humor, a strong emphasis on how we look and how we relate to men-- will give any female reader much to think about and chuckle about too. Do you want to lose 7 lbs, stop smoking and develop inner poise-- well see how Bridget does or doesn't do all of that in Bridget Jones diary.Fast summer read-- great airplane reading, fun reading for a mom who has to read in short breaks between kids, food, family and chaos! Good re-reading too....keep it at the summer house for guests.
6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2003
This book is wonderful. If you find that you prefer classics to remain classics (the storyline is based on Jane Austen's 'Pride and Predjudice') then this book is perhaps not for you, but it is a book for anyone who loves to laugh. Bridget is the ultimate heroine and I find that any modern woman can relate to at least one of her excursions and revel in the humility and hilarity of them. Men too can also enjoy 'Bridget' as can teenagers (I know as I happen to be one), but best of all, no matter how many times you read this, you will still find it hilarious!
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Posted February 9, 2013
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Posted December 29, 2012
The book was very British or whatever. Some parts/phrases were hard to understand. But it had some funny parts. Her life is one big 'FML' moment.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 23, 2012
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This was a good read, although I did enjoy the movie a bit more. Bridget Jones is very funny; I loved how she tracked EVERYTHING in her diary.. especially how she lost 72lbs and gained 74 throughout the whole year. All in all, the book had some funny moments, but others that just made me roll my eyes; like Bridgets mother becomming a criminal. C+
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Posted August 2, 2012
I didn't go in with high expectations, but it was charming, cute, real and HILARIOUS! All in all, it was worth my time!
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I am your best friend would you like to talk to me i really dont want you to be so shy but you are a nice guy to be around
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