LONDON: Readers, there is good news and bad news. Bridget Jones is back. But – brace yourselves – Mark Darcy is dead. Fans have been shaken by the revelation, leaked ahead of publication of “Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy,” the third book in Helen Fielding’s series about the diary-writing singleton. He may be fictional, but the demise of Bridget’s handsome lawyer lover – played on screen by a smoldering Colin Firth – is headline-worthy.
“I turned on the news and there was the Syrian crisis, and then ‘ Mark Darcy is dead,’” Fielding said, amazed.
The reaction is a testament to the hold of Fielding’s characters on the popular imagination. In ditzy, indomitable Bridget, she created an archetype. In Darcy she borrowed one, from the brooding Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Bridget, created for a series of 1990s newspaper columns, was a 30-something Londoner looking for love and career fulfillment while enduring the condescension of “smug marrieds” and confessing her many insecurities in her diaries: “Alcohol units 7, cigarettes 22, calories 2,145. Minutes spent inspecting face for wrinkles 230.”
In “Mad About the Boy” she is still counting calories and booze, though cigarettes have been replaced by nicotine gum. Bridget is now a 51-year-old widow with two young children, convinced she will never find love again.
Fielding said she had no choice but to kill Darcy so Bridget’s story could move on.
“The book I wanted to write was not about domesticity, married life. It was about Bridget struggling with what life throws at you,” Fielding said over lunch at the London gastropub where she likes to write in the daytime.
“It was Bridget being single with two children in the age of technology. And rediscovering her sexuality. She was a mother and she lost it amid the nappies and the busyness. I think lots of women go through that.”
“Bridget Jones’s Diary,” published in 1996, turned Fielding from a freelance journalist into one of Britain’s most successful writers.
The novel and its 1999 sequel have sold 15 million copies.
For years, Fielding resisted writing another installment. She was drawn back into Bridget’s world by a desire to write about the lives of middle-aged women, who often face stereotyping, just as the single Bridget did.
“There was the idea of ‘tragic, barren spinster’ because she was unmarried in her 30s,” Fielding said. “It was real then. You were Miss bloody Havisham if you didn’t have a boyfriend at 35. And I think the same is true of the middle-aged woman now.
In “Mad About the Boy,” Bridget’s romantic misadventures are overshadowed by loss and the fear of aging – but a strong comic vein remains.
As in the previous books, Bridget can lean on old friends Jude, Tom and Talitha, as well as disreputable former paramour Daniel Cleaver.
She navigates the treacherous world of online dating sites and Twitter, and acquires a 29-year-old boyfriend named Roxster.
The book also introduces Mr. Wallaker, a teacher at Bridget’s son’s school with whom she instantly clashes, or is that a spark between them? (Hint: Fielding says her dream casting for a movie adaptation is Daniel Craig).
Bridget has always contained elements of Fielding, who is 55 and, just like her character, lives in one of the nicer areas of north London with two young children. She is separated from their father, American comedy writer Kevin Curran.
There are glimpses of Bridget in the writer’s quick wit and sense of the absurd – though Fielding exudes a considerably greater sense of control than her hapless heroine.
Some of the reviews, however, have been less than glowing: not everyone hails mishap-prone, insecure Bridget as a 21st-century heroine.
Suzanne Moore, a newspaper columnist for Britain’s the Guardian, wrote a piece headlined “Why I Hate Bridget Jones,” condemning the character as “vapid, consumerist and self-obsessed” and the book as anti-feminist.
But Fielding has heard that argument before.
If women can’t make fun of themselves, she said, “we haven’t got very far at being equal, have we?”