A few days ago, I read Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, published 1998 by Picador, ISBN 0-330-33277-5. 320 pages.
This one was moderately enjoyable, although I liked it less than Pride and Prejudice, to be honest. Despite that Bridget Jones was a fairly sympathetic character, I didn’t feel like she was very likeable. From the start, Bridget is placed in some rather unenviable situations: paraded before a strange man by her friends and family, having various difficulties with Daniel, thwarted by chance (and a hair dryer) from having her first date with Mark Darcy. Unfortunately, her responses to these situations are somewhat less that admirable; regularly, she reacts by getting blind drunk and insulting the male half of the species, usually while eating and smoking quite a lot more than she ought to, given her goals of losing weight and stopping smoking. I do not mean to say that her reactions are not understandable, but they don’t tend to lead me to like her very much.
Bridget is set up in a role meant to be analogous to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, but where Elizabeth is funny, confident, and sometimes unfortunately powerless, Bridget seems merely acerbic, irresolute, and fairly useless. Even in the moments that she is meant to seem admirable, it feels forced. Take, for example, a situation near the end of the book. It is necessary to convince Bridget’s mother to come downstairs, and Bridget attempts to do this:
‘OK. Leave it to me,’ I said, and walked to the bottom of the stairs.
‘Mum!’ I yelled. ‘I can’t find any savory doilies.’
Everyone held their breath. There was no response.
‘Try again,’ whispered Mark, looking at me admiringly.
Granted, this book is written as Bridget’s diary, so it is she who is interpreting his look as admiring rather than, conceivably, exasperated, irritated, or annoyed, but it is not Bridget’s interpretation that concerns me. Rather, it is Fielding’s writing, for it is her responsibility to convince us to suspend our disbelief, to cause us to come to like her heroine, to cause us to feel worried for Bridget’s sake; in my opinion, Fielding fails at these tasks quite prodigiously.
I have considered that perhaps Bridget Jones was not meant to be a likeable character; perhaps she was intended as an anti-hero of sorts. Wikipedia tells me that “Fielding often lampooned society’s obsession with women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan and criticised wider societal trends in Britain at the time.” If Bridget was not intended to be likeable, then certainly Fielding may be forgiven for not making her so, but that would still leave me in the situation of having read 320 pages about the trials and tribulations of a woman I don’t much like, whose problems do not much interest me. As an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary was worth reading, but I think I would not have read it otherwise, and I do not foresee myself reading it again for pleasure.