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After a 14-year hiatus, London’s iconic everywoman has returned, driving readers and critics to the bookshelves. Helen Fielding’s third Bridget Jones novel, Mad About the Boy, was published in the U.K. on Oct. 10 and goes on sale in the U.S. Oct. 15.
Fielding first introduced Jones in a series of columns published by The Independent in 1995. The popular stories of the single 30-something Londoner were novelized the next year.
The first book, Bridget Jones’ Diary, is an icon of ’90s culture; its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, was published in 1999. The second book finds the title character jealous and insecure about her relationship with Mark Darcy and jetting off to Southeast Asia.
Between the two novels, more than 15 million copies have been sold and both were adapted into films starring Colin Firth (Mark), Renee Zellweger (Bridget) and Hugh Grant (Daniel Cleaver). The films grossed an impressive $543 million worldwide.
But readers familiar with Fielding’s work may find themselves at odds with Mad About the Boy, critics say. While the protagonist and even the setting remain largely intact, the novel takes place in the present day, and technology, dating, and child-rearing pose new challenges far removed from the world of Fielding’s first two novels.
The reviews for the highly anticipated new novel have been mixed. Find a roundup of what the critics have been saying about Mad About the Boy below:
The Independent’s Boyd Tonkin offers an in-depth interpretation of Fielding’s novel, pointing to the influence of modernity where, “On one side stands the dark-hued comedy of loneliness and grief,” and “on the other, upbeat fantasias of merry widowhood afloat on the social-media cloud.” Tonkin applies this concept to the work as a whole, which intermittently “drops, or soars, to another level.” And while not all critics would agree, Tonkin considers Bridget Jones’ “grief” and “despair” transient, lending themselves to a greater purpose whereupon a “new chapter in the fairy tale can begin.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Ann Friedman asks: “Who is Bridget Jones if she’s not fretting about a meaningless interaction with a man?” She feels the Bridget of Mad About the Boy lacks sufficient maturity, especially in light of the novel’s grim circumstances. “The introduction of genuine life sorrow doesn’t just mar the lightness of the original,” Friedman argues, “but it also makes it harder for many women to relate — widowhood being far less common among 50-year-olds than divorce.”
Justine Jordan of The Guardian echoes Friedman’s sentiments, asserting that a central problem of the novel has to do with Bridget’s “tragic backstory.” Between the fatherless children and social troubles, Mad About the Boy is weighed down with “so much darkness” that “Fielding seems unwilling to write any more in.” There’s a “new sentimentality, even slushiness, to [Fielding’s] old subjects,” Jordan writes, adding that “the familiar jaunty tone is reserved for playground politics and the chaos and cuteness of bringing up children.”
“While parenthood and profound loss may have forced Bridget to grow up in some ways, she hasn’t grown up much,” says the Washington Post’s Jen Chaney. “And that’s one of the novel’s key problems. Readers may expect a middle-aged woman who has dealt with such loss to have lowered her narcissism levels a tad. Not Bridget Jones.” But Chaney speculates that the novel’s real problem “is less about Bridget’s stunted development and more about the lack of originality in the novel’s approach.”
The Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton also is critical of the novel’s literary qualities. She writes that “the tone is all wrong,” and likens reading the first two thirds of Mad About the Boy to “listening to someone who once had perfect pitch, but now can’t sing a note.” Crompton writes that “the clue to the problem lies in the title.” The 51-year-old Bridget “is not struggling with her happy-ever-after” or “battling with the transformation of passion into marriage,” which could have “made a brilliant novel.” Still, Crompton doesn’t conclude that Fielding has lost her touch; “she is still superb at the construction of the comic set piece.”
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