Bridget Jones's Diary
reviewed by Martha
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