I really didn't want there to be another Bridget Jones book. I liked remembering Helen Fielding's famed heroine as she was, the goofy, curvy 30-something who epitomised so many of our lives at that point in time (the 1990s) and somehow made it okay for us to be messy, imperfect and insecure like she was. To have her turn up again in her 50s, a middle-class, north London mum with an obsession with Twitter and, worst of all, widowed; well, it's fair to say I embarked on Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy (Jonathan Cape) with my knickers in a knot about the whole thing.
My sourness persisted through the first few lacklustre chapters as Bridget awaited texts from her much younger boyfriend, the kids got nits and the school mums sent snippy round-robin emails. And then something happened. I laughed out loud once, twice, then so hard I had to put the book down to wipe the tears from my eyes. Further on, more tears welled, but this time not from laughter. I stayed on the sofa all one Sunday afternoon, moved and amused until the last page.
It was a risk for Fielding to write this book. When the first two novels were published they were something new, now the format has been done to death. Plus, fans have their expectations and Mark Darcy being blown up by a landmine while on a human-rights mission wasn't one of them. In many ways it was inevitable readers would feel disappointed and critics would carp. But I say, good on Fielding for going ahead anyway and giving us a middle-aged, rather lost and very sad Bridget Jones.
Admittedly, there is nothing wildly original about the plot. With the encouragement of her friends, Bridget gets back into the dating game, has to update herself on the many ways the rules have changed, comfort-eats packets of grated cheese, tots up her alcohol units, texts and tweets, has Botox and works on a ridiculous movie script based on Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. She doesn't seem to have gained much wisdom or maturity since we last encountered her; is still disaster-prone and makes a lot of fart jokes. Daniel Cleaver has a couple of guest appearances but they feel a bit like Fielding is having to force out the old cliches about him. And when the new love interest appears on the scene it's pretty obvious, which means the ending is predictable.
But the thing is it's really funny - even if it's also darker than the previous Bridget Jones books. And as a portrayal of a middle-aged female character it's actually pretty realistic. After all, hopes and dreams don't change when you hit your half-century; you still feel insecure about your appearance, have a few too many drinks with friends, worry about what to wear, etc. Also, I think it would make a brilliant movie, even if Colin Firth can't be in it and Renee Zellweger probably doesn't want to put on all that weight again.
So, on balance, I'm glad Fielding has given us another instalment of Bridget Jones ... and glad she gave her wrinkles and heartache in it.