This book is so good.
I saw the movie. I laughed at the idea that Renée Zellwegger was fat. I drooled a bit over Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy. I loved the screw-up at work where Bridget claimed she was on the phone with an author who had, unbeknownst to her, died three decades earlier, when the word fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck scrolled across the bottom of the screen. I recognized the friendship archetypes.
The book isn’t better, or worse. It’s different, and frankly, I thought it was fantastic. I was expecting a sad, ridiculous stereotype of a woman – instead the Bridget Jones in print is a complex woman who isn’t overly intellectual but isn’t flighty or ridiculous. She’s living in a world where she’s been told what her value is in terms of looks and in terms of her marriagability. She is rational, then irrational, then rational again.
The book has a somewhat similar storyline to the film – there is a relationship with her boss Daniel, there is a disdain, then attraction, then disdain, then attraction with Mark Darcy, all her friends are accounted for – but there are also some diversions. For example, she has a brother in the book. And her mother’s journey takes something of a dark turn. But the core of the book – and of Bridget herself – remains.
I’m newly married, and I only spent one year as properly single in my 30s. However, I could relate to so much of Bridget’s internal monologue. Some of it was so ridiculous – like when she leaves a potential sex partner because she doesn’t want to just fuck around, and has this triumphant feminist moment … then muses “I may have been right, but my reward, I know, will be to end up all along, half-eaten by an Alsatian” – but still relate-able. She’s so hard on herself – tracking her daily food consumption, her weight, her cigarette intake – and beating herself up with each weight fluctuation.
One favorite part is when she somehow manages to get her weight down to her goal, and everyone comments that she looks a bit tired, and looked ‘better before.’ “Now I feel empty and bewildered…Eighteen years – wasted. Eighteen years of calorie- and fat-unit-base arithmetic…I feel like a scientist who discovers that his life’s work has been a total mistake.” Observations like that – as well as the one that she has lost 72 pounds and gained 74 pounds over the course of the year – are real, at least, to me, and they represent the constant struggle many women face, and how they feel they can’t win. I’ve been there. Shoot, I live there.
She’s also hard on herself when it comes to work, and men. Whenever she has a flash of self-confidence or makes an attempt to start fresh, something inevitable pops up to derail her. Sometimes it’s silly, but most of the time it seems fairly realistic. It’s not like everything is bad, always, but there is this sort of constant underlying stress. It’s not the same stress as someone who is facing poverty, or racism, or anything so serious, but it’s that steady undercurrent saying you aren’t thin enough, or smart enough, or attractive enough, or enough like society wants you to be (i.e. married and having children). It’s the stress of wanting to fit convention, then buck it, then fit it again.
The book feels light and deep at the same time. I’m sure if I spent more time analyzing it I could find some problems to dissect (is she an active agent, or does she fixate her life around finding a mate?) but I kind of don’t want to spend more time focusing on it because I don’t want to ruin a really fun reading experience.
Great review. I read the book a few years before the movie came out. It remains one of my favorite books ever.