When you read something topical more than a decade past its prime, you miss the frisson of excitement that greeted its debut. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding drew raves when it was first published. I had no desire to read it then—probably about 15 years ago—because I thought it celebrated women as victims, trapped in some self-critical hell they could never climb out of. Actually, that was a reasonably perceptive evaluation.
I picked up the book at our fabulous St. Agnes library, thinking I could catch up on a dated cultural icon. Then I had to force myself to finish it. Yes, the musings of the overweight, alcoholic, dateless, human chimney with no self confidence who is known as Bridget Jones were amusing at first. Self-deprecating humor and unabashed self-bashing can be funny for about 15 minutes. But unwinding the tangled skein of a life that was going nowhere in a society that didn’t blink about that was just booorrrriinng. Bridget believes in every molecule of her liver-challenged, cholesterol-threatened and nicotine-laden being that she is a complete failure without the affirmation of some man. Really. Some—any—man seems to be it for her. She pursues creeps and cads obsessively, chronicling her failures along with daily calorie counts, cigs smoked, alcohol consumed and weight gained or lost.
Where is her brain? Where is a shred of self-awareness in all the self-criticism? Where is the acknowledgement that we create our own reality and that, as Lao Tzu proclaimed millennia ago, if you continue to do the same things, you will get the same results? Were there really that many women a decade and a half ago who believed they were nothing without a man? Funny became frustrating a dozen diary entries into this book.
In the end, is the fat girl Cinderella? Does the magic of Prince Charming save her? Has she learned her extraordinary self-destructive dumbness from her mother—another woman portrayed as an idiot in the book? Oy. I couldn’t muster appreciation for Bridget’s plight and her triumph just seemed like abject failure-to-thrive to me. Critics described this self-improvement queen as self-aware. Not. Didn’t happen. Mr. Darcy rides in on his white horse to save all the women who have eff’d up their lives big time and we wonder where Elizabeth Bennet wandered off to. Jane Austen could do Pride and Prejudice and deliver a satisfying human narrative with bright, imperfect characters who evolve. Helen Fielding just delivered Lumps and Losers in an endless loop of yo-yo dieting, hangovers and clever quips. It made me tired.
Helen Fielding | Penguin Books 2001