Mad About the Boy is Helen Fielding’s return to her heroine Bridget Jones after a break of 15 years. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to review Mad About the Boy without including spoilers, so if you have not read the book and do not want to be spoiled, please go away, read the book and come back later. We’ll be waiting.
When reading this book I had the strong impression that I was following not one but two protagonists: Bridget Darcy, 51, widow and mother of two who is struggling to deal with her grief at the loss of her husband. These sections are some of the most beautiful and poignant in the book as Fielding describes the “dark tsunami” of grief which still threatens to overwhelm Bridget five years after the loss of her husband and of her love for her children. The second protagonist is Bridget Jones, emotional age 24, singleton, screenwriter and twitterata who is looking for love a second time around. This second characterisation is where most of the comedy is found. Fielding herself emphasises this dichotomy through the names by which Bridget is referred. In situations dealing with the children or coping with life as a widow she is usually referred to as Mrs Darcy. On Twitter and dating profiles for example, she reverts to her maiden name, Jones.
I can see what Fielding was trying to do here by having Bridget try to revert to a time in her life when she was more carefree and happier, but for me, personally, it doesn’t work. There is just too wide of a gap between Bridgets Darcy and Jones. The comedy is very funny, but some of it is more sad than amusing if you remember that it is coming from a 51 year old. It’s easy to be left with the impression that Bridget has learned nothing over the last fifteen years and has gained little in the way of maturity and insight.
Towards the end of the book, the two aspects of Bridget are brought together more closely, and I suppose that is intended to be Bridget’s journey, to rediscover her fun loving, comedic, sexual side and to incorporate it with her responsibilities as a mother, daughter and friend. Again, I’m not certain that that comes across as effectively as Fielding intended.
What I liked
The writing. There are some beautiful moments where we get to see Bridget’s grief and love for her children. I know Fielding has been heavily criticised for her decision to kill off Mark Darcy and make Bridget a widow. I felt it was a smart decision, forcing Bridget to undergo some emotional growth.
The Jones/Roxter relationship. I really liked how that was written. Roxter comes across as a genuinely sweet and caring guy, and was probably good for Bridget at that time in her life. The ending of the relationship was beautifully written, with their both still caring for each other, but accepting that their life stages were just too different to continue the relationship long term. Clearly Bridget’s story in this book is to rediscover her fun, sexy self again and this relationship was fantastic for that.
The narration. I specifically chose to enjoy this book in audio format because I saw it was narrated by Samantha Bond. She did a fantastic job in bringing out both the comedy and tragedy in Bridget’s tale.
Imagining the film. Knowing the calibre of the cast of the previous two films, I can imagine that, with a tighter screenplay, they could make a great film. Oh, and please can we have Daniel Craig as Mr Wallaker? For Roxter I’m thinking of someone like Colin O’Donaghue. I think Colin could easily handle the sexy, flirty side of Roxter as well as his sensitive side.
What I didn’t like
The writing. I know I’ve mentioned the writing as something I liked, but in some cases, it was very hit and miss. The times I felt it missed most was in the characterisations. As I have mentioned I felt that there was little personal development in many cases with Bridget. This is carried across to Bridget’s friends, Jude, Tom and Daniel. They may have moved on in their careers, but emotionally, they all seem to be stuck at the same place they were in 15 years ago.
The ending. From the first few chapters of the book it was clear who Bridget was going to end up with. You don’t describe a secondary character as looking like Daniel Craig if the heroine isn’t going to end up with him. However, I didn’t feel the ending was earned. The two characters just didn’t have enough time together to justify it. Bridget’s journey in this book is about rediscovering her fun, sexy side and being open to love again after tragedy, not to find the second love of her life. For me, personally, the ending would have been stronger if it had been left at the start of Bridget’s new relationship with Scott.
All in all, I did enjoy Mad About the Boy, there are too many characterisation flaws to make it a great read. I gave it three stars out of five.