Monday, November 11, 2013

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

I’ve been a Bridget Jones’s Diary fan for a number of years now.  It was one of my few airplane books.


You know, one of those books you buy at the last minute at the airport because you need something, nay, anything to do on plane?  One of those.


I was standing in the airport and I was hating the book I had.  A friend had loaned me Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex, and I was quickly and painfully learning that I was not a Thompson fan.


(I eventually tried Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and also found it an absolute slog.  Sorry folks.)


I’m not sure why I picked up the first Jones book.  I do recall I was standing at a kiosk with extremely limited literature choices, and it’s possible it was the only thing that looked even remotely interesting.  I flipped it open and started to read, and while the humor was simple (oh look, a man in a bad sweater!) it looked like it wasn’t going to punish me for reading it, unlike certain other books I could name.


So I bought it and boarded the plane, and here’s the thing – I had a good flight.  I sat and I read and while I didn’t feel compelled to keep turning pages (Jones is, for the most part, a romantic comedy, and they really only end one way) I also never felt compelled to stop, sigh, and regret my choice.  I even had a nice conversation with the flight attendant, who told me she thought the book was very funny.


I smiled.  I was maybe halfway through it then, and while I was enjoying myself, I didn’t find it riotous. I didn’t feel compelled to laugh out loud.


I was almost done with it by the time I got home, and the next morning I woke up and finished it off.  And while I couldn’t put it amongst the works of great literature, or even among my favorite books, I kind of loved it.


When people (mostly women, I’ll admit) asked me what I was reading lately, I more often than not found myself loaning the book to them, and they had much the reaction I did.  They’d read it in a day or two, and return it with a smile on their face.


Ultimately, it was a perfect little gem that did everything it was supposed to exactly right.


The problem, of course is that it came to a pretty solid happy ending.  There wasn’t really any reason to write another.


And yet, as I often say to friends who ask why there are so many movie sequels, the reason is always simple: Money.


In a kind of a cool twist, a friend I had originally loaned my copy of the book went to the UK around the time the second book was published.  She brought it home and loaned it to me, and I was able to read Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason months before it came out in the States.


And… it was really mediocre.


Having already solved most of the complications in the first novel, this one was forced to create new ones.  And while the first book contained a lot of moments that could easily be described as, “Well, that’s a little zany, but I could see it happening to someone I know,” the second book…


Well, frankly, it tried to up the stakes, and it just didn’t work.  The original volume had been a fun, low stakes book, and this one tried to up everything, and it wasn’t silly or fun, just kind of annoying and trying-too-hard.


Whereas I had dragged my wife to see the first movie in the theater, and enjoyed it thoroughly, I caught up with the second movie on video, when I could get it from the library and not have to pay anything for it.


There were a couple of fun moments, I’ll admit.  But whereas the first movie had taken the best bits of the book and added little ideas that were fun, the second movie seemed to keep only the stuff that was just flat-out the opposite of good.


I figured it was over then.  Years later I read that Jones had returned, in column format, in some British newspaper or another.  I figured that eventually that would get turned into a book as well, but it didn’t happen.  I figured this was because the moment had kinda passed.


And then… and then there was word of a new book.


The thing of it was, I hadn’t care for the second book, and so the third couldn’t really hurt me, I figured.  If it was bad, I’d skip it, or perhaps skim it and see if any of the old magic was back. 


And if it was good?  Well, it would be nice to see Jones redeemed.


Much was made of the fact that Jones’s love interest (and husband!) died before the events of the third book.  The author said the Jones books only work when she’s single, and maybe that’s the case.  But truthfully, I think a good book could have been crafted out of her marriage and child-rearing.


(I’ve worked and reworked the below paragraph, and honestly, it might reveal too much about the book.  Feel free to skip that one, if you want to read the book.)


Instead, Jones became a cougar on the prowl after years of being a lonely single mother.  She spends the book getting into and out of a relationship with a man several years her junior, and then the book ramps a periphery character and Jones, because she has to, heads towards another happily ever after with one of her two choices.


It is, in some ways, the first book all over again, only with more baggage.


But mostly, it’s less of a fun book.  In fact, mostly, it’s a melancholy one.


The fact of the matter is, a dead spouse is a very serious subject matter, and while the book skirts around the edges of this idea for a while, it remains the elephant in the room until the book decides to address it.


The thing of it is, if you liked the character at all, those passages are genuinely devastating.  If the first book was a light romp, this book can’t, by its very nature ever get nearly as romp-y.


If the first book was a perfectly crafted thing, this one is messy, and I don’t know if that was the intention or not.  A dead spouse was, ultimately, going to mean that pathos was baked into the tale, and when I sat around reading reviews, it’s apparent that people just couldn’t stomach the idea of a tale with happy in its sad and sad in its happy.


But I was good with it.


A good book is a delicate animal, I think, and the problem with imperfect ones is that often there’s no real way to fix it.  The book spends a lot of time clearing its throat and trying to get rolling, and I spent maybe 100 pages trying to get used to reading Bridget’s missives again.


I can imagine an editor, and possibly the author, spent a long time trying to get the book to launch in just the right way, and truthfully, I think they blew it.


But as I moved through the book, I found more and more to like.  Bridget spends much of a book trying to write a screenplay and get it turned into a movie, and since that’s mostly unrelated to her love life it allows for more laughs.


And while the cougar relationship sometimes trends towards the awkward, it eventually develops a charm of its own.   I suspect that’s because it becomes more honest as it goes along, starting as a “young man finds a woman 20 years older than him to be the hottest thing ever” and eventually dives into the real issues that would present themselves.


And perhaps that’s the issue, really.  So much time has passed, so many important events have occurred, and the book is forced to skip over some and gloss over others in an effort to get into the story.


But the thing of it is, there was a story there, it probably just didn’t feel very Bridget Jones-like, what with all the death and the sadness.


In the end, this is a melancholy book, and much of that hinges on a dead husband and the prospect of single motherhood.  Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy knows this and tries to be honest with it. 


And while I don’t think it will eventually be judged a classic, I suspect that over time this will be the book fans turn to when they think about sequels to the original.  It will always be found slightly lacking (anything compared to the first book probably will be) but it has a charm and an honesty all its own.


If the first book is all about happily ever after, this one is about finding the happiness in the sadness. 

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