I’d seen the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary a couple of times but never read the original book. Although I don’t generally read books categorised as ‘chick lit’, I think this book is considered a classic of the genre now and of course it’s another in the ‘funny diary’ tradition. Bridget Jones is Adrian Mole, if he were a 30-something woman from a posh background living a chaotic urban existence in the 90s. Considering that it was published 25 years ago, the book has not dated too badly, beyond a couple of terms that would be mildly derogatory now and some references to popular culture and technology.
The diary is a year in Bridget’s life. Her preoccupations are her single status, her weight, her exasperating mother, snooty colleagues and self-doubt. Every entry in the diary begins with how much she weighs, the number of calories consumed, cigarettes smoked, etc. The content very effectively captures the dilemmas of women who feel pressured into finding partners before it’s too late to have children, dieting to get the perfect figure but feeling worthless when they indulge, and pursuing impressive careers when they would rather watch TV and drink with their friends.
There is a strong Pride and Prejudice influence, as Helen Fielding was watching the BBC series at the time and it’s even mentioned in the diary. Daniel Cleaver, the boss that Bridget has an affair with, is of course Mr Wickham, while the brooding yet kind and intelligent Mark Darcy is… well, Mr Darcy. The book shows that little has changed in 200 years, as Bridget and her friends are conflicted – they feel like failures because they’re not part of what Bridget calls the ‘Smug Marrieds’, they know that blokes who mess them around shouldn’t be tolerated, yet they want to find romance.
This 25th anniversary edition has extra content which addresses the sexism evidenced in the diary and what Bridget would think now that perspectives have changed. There are other pieces, some by Helen and some by Bridget, which are about feminism, Princess Diana’s death, Brexit and lockdown. The transcript of Colin Firth’s interview with ‘Bridget’ is included and is quite funny. Helen also discusses how the book came about, the unexpected fame and cultural impact, but seems to avoid saying much about the film. By a strange coincidence, I’m the same age as Bridget is in the book, although our lives are not that similar.
In summary, don’t be put off by the knicker-covered design of this book. It really is worth a read. I didn’t love it but I know that it’s close to many readers’ hearts and the character of Bridget has a place in the collective conscience.
First published in 1996 by Picador. This edition, 2021.