When last we heard from Bridget Jones, the fictional compulsive diarist whose hilarious, hapless dispatches from the Land of Singletons made a best-selling celebrity of her singleton creator, Helen Fielding, Bridget was in danger of giving in to happiness. Mark Darcy, the kind, decent, rich, available man whom Bridge had previously spent so much time ignoring (much as Elizabeth Bennet dismissed Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), turned out to be not only kind, decent, and rich but ardent yet unflappable, too. Hurrah for our girl! we thought. She’s earned the right to requited romance, having spent so many years in exhausting self-scrutiny, assisted by her best friends Jude and Shazzer and egged on with advice from a stack of faddish self-help books. Besides, we knew she’d never betray her singleton fans by rashly joining the land of the Smug Marrieds.
We hadn’t bargained, though, on Bridget betraying us by joining the Land of Dithering Dodos. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason picks up where Bridget Jones’s Diary left off, with the calorie-, cigarette-, and alcohol-obsessed thirtysomething English TV journalist in possession of a good man, as recorded in her ongoing journal: ”129 pounds (total fat groove), boyfriends 1 (hurrah!), shags 3 (hurrah!), calories 2,100, calories used up by shags 600, so total calories 1,500 (exemplary).” But, perhaps fearing that for the purposes of a sequel, possession is nine tenths of a bore, the author barely allows the couple a slap and a tickle before steering Bridget away from the experience of a rewarding relationship and onward to ever more inane behavior and goofy misadventures. And the cumulative effect of so much meddling — decision making by attention deficit — is to diminish reader empathy rather than deepen it. To quote Bridget at her most blitheringly Ally McBealish: Durr. Yurr. Gaaah. Aargh.
It’s almost as if Bridget must be punished for abandoning her single-girl routines to become (as Shazzer so bitterly puts it) a ”Smug Going-Out-with-Someone.” First, a boyfriend-stealing acquaintance makes a play for Bridget’s guy, and Bridget convinces herself that he’s bound to surrender. Then a carpenter arrives to put up shelves, and Bridget finds herself incapable of removing him from her home. Sent on a dream magazine assignment to Rome to interview actor Colin Firth — Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy himself — the professional journalist misses her plane, misses her deadline, and misses the point of the assignment. Wandering off on a vacation with Shaz in Thailand, Bridget gets thrown in jail, à la Brokedown Palace.
I’m willing to entertain the counterargument that Bridget Jones was, in the manner of offbeat Austen ladies, always skittish and disorganized, and that the addition of a lover would not automatically confer serenity on a person who wears her disarray like a pashmina shawl. But I’m not so easily persuaded that Fielding — having done important anthropological work on the screwy eagerness of brave, kindhearted, unmarried 1990s working women in their 30s prepared to muddle through life manless — knows what to do with Bridget now that Bridget’s no longer sans beau. Does the author feel guilty about taking Bridge away from her appreciative singleton readers? Or had she simply run the B. Jones phenomenon to its natural end — and still, faced with a fat book contract and a deadline to meet, agreed to churn and churn, filling pages? (”Gaaah! Gaaah! Is 8:45! Am going to miss morning meeting and not have time for cappuccino.”)
Bridget Jones’s Diary covered a year in a little more than 250 pages. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason runs about a hundred pages longer. And yet, despite reports of Bridget’s travels and notes about a weird, funny-for-Brits jaunt her Ab Fab-ish mother takes to Africa, where Mrs. Jones picks up a Kikuyu ”tribesman” as a kind of travel souvenir, the entries cover less inspired terrain, in writing far more exhausted. (”Am wearing leg irons. Am wearing LEG IRONS. Am in stinking Third World cell with eight Thai prostitutes and a potty in the corner….”) The Edge of Reason tells us where Ms. Jones’ legs lead her, but little about why she’s still so afraid to follow her heart. Durr. C