By now, most Bridget Jones fans have heard the big, upsetting spoiler about Helen Fielding’s third installment in the franchise. (If you don’t want to know, look away now, please.)
Bridget Jones — now Bridget Darcy — is a widow. Mr. Mark Darcy has tragically died. After finally allowing Jonesy to join the ranks of the smug marrieds, Fielding has made her bumbling, calorie-counting heroine man-less once again. She’s now a single mother to two young children who barely have memories of their perfect father.
Some Bridget fans have already said they’ll skip this book to protest Darcy’s death. But they shouldn’t because Fielding’s “Mad About the Boy” is an OK read, and far superior to the second book, the appropriately titled “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” which found our heroine singing Madonna songs in a Southeast Asian prison.
Fielding is still very funny and gives readers some amusing scenes featuring Bridget checking her family for nits, communicating with judgmental mothers at her kids’ school (one of whom she calls Nicorette instead of Nicolette), and writing a screenplay based on “Hedda Gabler,” which she believes is spelled with two B’s.
Fielding also brings back some of her best minor characters. Bridget’s friend Jude is still giving delightful commentary about Vile Richard. And Daniel Cleaver is back, now a shadow of himself, a much older, lonely lothario who is still asking Bridget about her undies. (Fielding’s next book should be “The Ballad of Daniel Cleaver.”)
But the most unsettling thing about “Mad About the Boy” — more so than the death of Darcy — is Bridget’s age. She’s now in her 50s (unbelievable, right?), and that’s just tough to accept, especially because she’s still as self-absorbed as she was 14 years ago when the last book was released.
Fielding reintroduces us to Bridget in a new relationship with a young man named Roxter (think: rock star). She’s met him through Twitter, of all things, four years after losing Darcy and after her friends have pushed her back into the dating world. Not surprisingly, present-day Bridget obsesses over social media and all forms of digital communication. Next to her daily calorie count is a total of the day’s text messages and Twitter followers.
She spends most of her 2012-2013 diary e ntries pondering her back-and-forths with her 29-year-old boyfriend — what he might be thinking, why he hasn’t called, and whether he’ll eventually leave her because she is two decades older. Roxter takes up more space in Bridget’s brain than her two children.
That Bridget comes across as totally self-involved is sort of understandable because this is her diary, after all, and because she’s always been one big Freudian id. But this many years later, it’s getting harder to accept her long rants about summer outfits and her upper arms. Why hasn’t she grown up?
The best parts of the novel are the sad ones, when Fielding allows Bridget to experience grief. They are few and far between, but they give Bridget just a little bit of the depth she desperately needs — for instance, when she is stunned to see Darcy in her son Billy’s face. When she is truly miserable, Bridget becomes more than just a caricature.
“I MUST stop thinking, ‘If only Mark was here.’ I must stop thinking of the way he used to sleep with his arm across my shoulder, like he was protecting me, the physical intimacy, the scent of the armpit, the curve of muscle, the stubble on the chin. The way I felt when he answered the phone about work and went into his busy and important mode, then he’d look at me in the middle of
the conversation with those brown eyes, so sort of smoldering, yet vulnerable. Or Billy saying, ‘Do puzzles?’ and Mark and Billy spending hours doing incredibly complicated puzzles because they were both so clever.”
These paragraphs are so necessary because even though Bridget begins this diary a few years after Mark’s death, it’s new to the readers, and they’re certainly not over it. When she obsesses for long stretches about Roxter and pounds, it just doesn’t fly — and starts to feel like “Sex and the City 2” (meaning, you just want to turn it off).
Hopefully, when they make a movie of “Mad About the Boy” (pay attention, Renée Zellweger), the powers that be will allow Bridget to be really, really sad and will make the most of Fielding’s occasional descriptions of a Jonesy who’s truly self-aware. Because the mourning scenes give the silly ones some heart, and that’s what Bridget deserves more than anything else.Meredith Goldstein is an entertainment news reporter and advice columnist for the Globe and author of the novel “The Singles.’’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.