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Bridget Jones's Diary

reviewed by Martha Bagnall

by Helen Fielding
Viking, 271 pp., $22.95

Helen Fielding's witty Bridget Jones's Diary was recently criticized by Alex Kuczynski in The New York Times as being just the sort of self-deprecating and backwards kind of humor that feminists have long sought to exterminate. The single, thirty-something Bridget Jones, Kuczynski says, embodies everything men laugh at in women; obsessed with dieting, sex, hair, and shoes, Bridget personifies a stereotype.
Well, perhaps. Presented in such terms, this book ought to rile any '90s woman instantly. But the fact of the matter is that I laughed so hard and so long all throughout the Diary that my (male) friends nearly forced me to leave their common room, on the grounds that it was rude to get so much pleasure out of something and not share it. I couldn't help it. When Bridget surlily surveys the post-Christmas Turkey Curry Buffet to which her mother has dragged her so she can meet the rich and newly-divorced Mark Darcy, she notices Mark in a corner on his own, gazing at the bookshelves. "It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It's like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting 'Cathy' and banging your head against a tree."
Of course, her mother's (and her aunt's, and her parents' friends', and her married friends') pressure to find a husband, no matter how unsuitable, strikes a chord in Bridget, too. But savvy liberated woman that she is, she knows her goal is self-reliance, not dependence. How to resolve the dilemma? Her New Year's Resolution has the solution: "I will not sulk about having no boyfriend, but develop inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend."
But Bridget hasn't turned entirely desperate. The touted Mark Darcy is wearing bumblebee socks, she notes in triumph, thereby crossing him off her mental list. Everyone has his or her own private standards, publicized or not (note to my roommate: You may not set me up with a Republican for the Screw), recognized here in full: "As my friend Tom often remarks, it's amazing how much time and money can be saved in the world of dating by close attention to detail. A white sock here, a pair of red braces there, a gray slip-on shoe, a swastika, are as often as not all one needs to tell you there's no point writing down phone numbers and forking out for expensive lunches because it's never going to be a runner."
Fielding's irreverent eye picks up every one of Bridget's idiosyncrasies and contradictions, and manages to mock and love them in the same phrase. As Bridget's mother runs away with a con artist named Julio, as Bridget's friend Tom disappears for two days because of his nose job, as she carries on a tumultuous relationship with her boss ("Fuckwittage!" she terms her own mindlessness), her life, careering from near-disaster to near-disaster, becomes a comic soap opera that somehow imbues the reader with a lighter perspective on life. Kuczynski may have entirely missed the irony of Fielding's self-parody, but the rest of her readership is unlikely to.