Note: I'm hosting a book club discussion on Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy on my Facebook Fan Page, if you'd like to join. Here's what's posted there:
Hello, book club readers! Let’s talk about Bridget!
BTW, MANY, MANY PLOT POINTS AHEAD, PLEASE STOP READING THIS NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED.
OKAY, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
After a couple of weeks of consideration, I’m still not entirely sure of how Helen Fielding’s Mad About the Boy is sitting with me. Last fall, I couldn’t get over the feeling of good fortune I had when I heard this was coming out as I’ve missed Bridget terribly. Maybe that’s because I’ve read both Bridget Jones books so many times I’ve lost count and I watch the (first) movie whenever I run across the listing and then spend the rest of the exclaiming, “I choose vodka and Chaka Kahn!”
Because of my own insane expectations/odd attachment, I pretty much set myself up to be disappointed; nothing could hold up to my memory of my most beloved character with her blue spaghetti and her scary granny panties and handbag full of rotting filet steak. I identified with so many aspects of her life, which is likely why this particular book took me aback. I really wasn’t anticipating Bridget losing Mark – it’s too close to real life. Hopefully losing my husband isn’t something I’ll have to deal with for decades, yet this book made me consider the eventualities. (I’m reminded of that old Van Halen video for the song Right Now, where it showed the line Right Now God Is Killing Moms and Dogs Because He Has To.) These loses are real, but they’re almost too much to consider.
Darcy’s death is so harsh, considering all I really wanted was to read about my favorite girl faffing about in ill-fitting underwear. Yet this speaks to Fielding’s talent, as the easy choice was to simply let Daniel come in and cause a ruckus. Such a story would have satisfied readers, Fielding could cash her check with many zeroes on it, and everyone would go home happy. Death ups the ante, and Fielding took the calculated risk that she might enrage her fans. She did it anyway, and I applaud her bravery because this choice took her writing to another level. The grief Fielding was able to capture was masterful and powerful and absolutely heartbreaking. There Bridget was, living her happily ever after, and suddenly the rug’s yanked out from underneath her.
And yet I have to say it again - no one wanted this for Bridget.
As a reader, I HATED the choice Fielding made in offing Darcy.
As author, I totally admire the choices Fielding made, and that’s why I’m of two minds here. Hell, I feel like Bridget is “mine” and I’m just a fan. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Fielding to have Bridget riding around in her head for the past two decades. As I now write fiction – please note, largely due to the impact that Fielding’s work had on my career – I understand how sometimes characters take over and the story they want to tell isn’t the author’s choosing. It’s possible that Bridget gave Fielding no other choice but to write this situation.
I made peace with the loss of Darcy and I respect Fielding’s choices as a professional. Again, not my first choice, but I understand. And I’m still moved by the emotional bits about seeing her husband’s face every time she gazes at her son.
I get it. I do.
And then, somehow, once I was finally onboard, applauding Fielding for her bravery, the entire narrative shifted to fart jokes and cringe-worth texts to a man twenty years her junior. There I was, resolved to be sad and ready for Bridget to figure it all out, when she throws all reason out the window and regresses to teenaged behavior on her way to Cougartown. That may have flown at thirty but at fifty? Not so much.
I’m not sure why I was bothered so much by the massive shift in Bridget’s priorities - perhaps because it’s scary that this is what might happen to any of us in the same situation? In terms of story flow, I felt like far too much time was spent on the younger guy, as the burgeoning relationship with the age-appropriate man was tossed in at the end, almost as an afterthought. I finished this book feeling like there were more dots yet to be connected and I hate, hate, hate the idea of saying a single critical word about Fielding, in a real “I’m not worthy” sense, as without her, I wouldn’t be here.
I guess the bottom line here is that for the first time when I finished a Bridget Jones book, I didn’t immediately open it again to start from the beginning.
Will I read anything else by Fielding?
Will I ever love her as much as I did before I read Mad About the Boy?
I’ve pulled the following discussion questions from the guide on RandomHouse.com, with my own added commentary.
1. How did you react when you read about Mark Darcy’s fate? (Jen’s note: Other than HULK SMASH, I mean.)
2. Age is a major theme in this novel. Why does Bridget feel the struggles more acutely than some of her contemporaries? (Jen’s note: Or is that not her inherent charm?)
3. Dating rules have changed dramatically since Bridget’s last appearance. How well does she adapt?
4. Why does Roxster tell Bridget he “hearts” her? (page 250). Does he really mean “love,” or is this something else? (Jen’s note: Did you FUCKING HATE him like I did?)
5. On page 361, Tom tells Bridget about a new survey: “It proves that the quality of someone’s relationships is the biggest indicator of their long-term emotional health—not so much the ‘significant other’ relationship, as the measure of happiness is not your husband or boyfriend but the quality of the other relationships you have around you.” How does this bode for Bridget? Which characters might have cause for concern? (Jen’s note: Are you even invested enough in them to care?)
6. At the carol concert, Mr. Wallaker looks at Bridget in a certain way and she realizes she loves him. What finally brings her around? (Jen’s note: Or was this entirely out of left field for you, too?)
7. What is the significance of the owl?
8. Bridget’s last entry ties up the story in a cozy, comforting way. What do you imagine will happen next? (Jen’s note: How would you have written this book differently?)