This review contains spoilers. And rage.
Here’s where I’m coming from with this: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is one of my comfort reads (only because I don’t own a copy of the first book). There’s something intensely reassuring about Bridget’s endless fuck-ups which somehow turn out all right in the end. And there’s something intensely relatable in her struggles to juggle her overbearing mother, her friends, her relationships, her career and her diet. It’s rare for a book to be this spot-on about the day-to-day ups and downs of Being an Adult in the world.
(It would be interesting to think about the various social pressures Bridget negotiates – the relationship advice books, her daily charting of how much she weighs and how much she eats – and how that relates to the first two novels’ Austenian models. That lies outside the scope of today’s review, though, since, sadly, Fielding veers away from Austen with Mad About the Boy.)
There was a lot of fuss made when Mad About the Boy was published about Mark Darcy, Bridget’s happily-ever-after, being killed off five years before the novel opens. I instinctively thought this was a shame, too, for I am a product of my culture and thus a naïve romantic. But: in theory it’s a nice starting point, a chance to tell a story about an older woman rebuilding her life after her marriage has ended. These things happen, after all.
That said, there’s something depressing about the fact that Mark literally has to be violently killed for Bridget to be single again: we can’t sympathise with a divorcee, apparently. Divorces are far more common than actual murders, after all, and Fielding’s descriptions of Bridget’s grief are so cringe-inducingly bad:
Darkness, memories, sorrow rearing up, engulfing me like a tsunami.
OH GOD. Compare this to the lovely, lovely denouement of The Edge of Reason, where emotion is shown through action and suggestion rather than info-dumped on us like an actively embarrassing tsunami:
I stroked his hair, I kissed his bald patch where his fur had been loved off. And then I told him what I felt, what I really, really felt. And the miracle was, when I had finished, he told me he felt pretty much the same.
NO TSUNAMIS HERE.
Obviously, talking about what the book should have been rather than what it is is not really proper or fair criticism; but I can’t help feeling Fielding would have done better at writing about divorce than death, the latter being something that the very best authors ever have failed to describe. Because this isn’t a novel about grief, it’s a novel about Finding Love Again. And so it’s galling to feel like death was chosen because divorce isn’t romantic enough by our culture’s warped and misogynistic standards.
Anyway. Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t my least favourite thing about the novel. No, my least favourite thing was that the two men Bridget has significant romantic relationships with in Mad About the Boy are, um, problematic arseholes.
Well: 30-year-old Twitter hipster Roxster seems mostly OK, except that pretty much the very first thing he says to Bridget in real life is this:
“I’m going to have to confiscate [your phone] until you’ve settled down.”
RED FLAG RED FLAG RED FLAG
For context: Roxster takes Bridget’s phone so she won’t tweet their date. But that’s just a way of normalising “Roxster takes Bridget’s phone”, which is a sentence that should not be normalised. It’s clear from the way the rest of their relationship unfolds that this is supposed to be hilarious flirtation, but, um, it isn’t? It’s creepy? Don’t do it?
Aand then we have Mr Wallaker, ex-SAS teacher at Bridget’s children’s school and slow-burn romantic interest in the background while Bridget is farting around with the much younger Roxster. For the entire book he is bloody rude to Bridget: he gives her orders, questions her ability to carry out basic tasks and, at one point, tells her she looked better without Botox: “I wouldn’t do that again.”
It’s a far cry from Mark Darcy’s “I like you just the way you are”.
I think what’s going on here is essentially alpha male fantasy. We’re supposed to find Mr Wallaker sexy because he marches around being rude to everyone and lifting cars off small children (I am not kidding, this is an actual thing that happens in the book). The same is, to some extent, true of Roxster taking Bridget’s phone away: he is assertive, and thus attractive.
Which…well, the thing about Bridget Jones, as I said at the start of this post, is that it’s specifically, emphatically not fantasy? Mad About the Boy contains diarrhoea. And vomit. And nits. And think of those lists at the beginning of each diary entry: calories consumed, units of alcohol consumed, tweets sent, number of times checked phone. Those signal to us an interest in the specific, in the real, in the minutia of the everyday; they say to us, “this is someone’s real life”.
And, in real life, alpha male behaviours are emphatically not OK. They’re fine in erotica and they’re fine in sexual fantasy because the point of erotica and sexual fantasy is that they’re not real. But having “alpha male” as an actual real dynamic in your actual real day-to-day relationship (by which I mean, outside of the bedroom) is unhealthy and creepy and misogynistic, and it’s time we as a culture stopped normalising it as romantic and desirable.
Jeez. I thought we covered all this stuff with Twilight. Get your shit together, authors, please.