The Bridget Jones’s Diary empire is synonymous with the nineties; it has (rightly) achieved legendary chick-flick status; is renowned for being comedy gold; and criticised just enough to make the whole thing semi-controversial. The last part depends on who you ask.
But Bridget Jones’s Diary hasn’t always been that mega bucks film starring Texan Renee Zellweger with a cut-glass posh accent kissing both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Oh, no. Bridget Jones’s Diary began as a fictional newspaper column in The Independent by writer Helen Fielding. It was all a laugh at first, and something Fielding used to pay the bills. That was until people began reading the column and absolutely loving it.
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Not too long after that, Bridget Jones’s Diary was published in full novel format. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.
I genuinely expected this book to be a let-down. The films are my beloved girlhood, adolescent comfort and an integral part of my relationship with my best friend. I thought that there was no way Fielding would be able to encapsulate the humour of the films in 300 pages. Oh, how wrong I was. Bridget Jones’s Diary had me laughing from beginning to end – sometimes quite a lot.
The story is told through almost-daily diary entries from Bridget, beginning at the infamous turkey curry buffet one New Year’s Day. Bridget is unhappy with her weight, her smoking habits, her drinking habits – and pretty much every other habit. She’s also really miffed she hasn’t got a boyfriend. And then begins the most exciting year of her life.
We all know the plot: Jones forms an inappropriate yet thrilling relationship with Daniel Cleaver, her super sexy boss, before finding out he’s having an affair, and leaves him. Then Mark Darcy, the handsome, polite(ish) barrister comes back on the scene and Bridget finds herself falling for him.
What Fielding achieves in the novel is more than what’s achieved in the film. We are able to get a feel for Bridget’s friends far more here – they’re ever-present, hilarious, and very comforting. Bridget is always on the phone to them, meeting them for emergencies (which happen rather often) and listening to their advice. The most touching moments in Bridget Jones’s Diary are with her best friend Tom.
Now, what bothers most people about the films and the novels is Bridget’s obsessive calorie-counting. They say the novel is ‘unfeminist’ because she thinks weighing nine stones is fat (and also because she waits by the phone for her love interest to call her). Well-intentioned criticism though this is, it’s (respectfully) misguided.
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Helen Fielding is being ironic when she has Bridget count her calories. She thinks a number on the scales will bring her happiness and the way this is presented in the novel is satiric. If you can’t see that this obsession with food is ridiculous, then you’re lacking a bit of wit. We all know being too thin won’t make Bridget happy – even she knows that. But this is the nineties. You only need to look at magazines from this time to know where this satiric critique of society comes from.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a laugh-a-minute diamond of a novel. Easy, pleasurable, hilarious reading is so incredibly difficult to come by, yet Helen Fielding serves it up on a platter for you to enjoy with the air of a natural. That’s because she is. Fielding was born to bring Bridget Jones into our lives and, as a young, single woman, I am grateful for it.
If you want an honest portrait of single, female adulthood in the 1990s (that isn’t too dissimilar from the 2020s), Bridget Jones’s Diary is the one for you.