Sometimes, reading popular material yields surprisingly good reads (The Road, Gone Girl, Harry Potter), but other times, the popularity is a little more head-scratch-inducing. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary belongs to the latter.
Hapless Bridget Jones begins her diary with New Year’s resolutions for stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and losing weight. Following that, nearly every entry begins with an account of weight, calories consumed, alcohol and cigarette intake, as well as various other totals like lottery tickets bought or number of times compulsively checking the phone for calls. The entries themselves chronicle her waffling between wanting a boyfriend, trying to make herself not feel bad for being single, and obsessing over a boyfriend when she has one, as well as detailing the drama of her parents’ disintegrating relationship, her irritation with Smug Marrieds, and the woes of a dead-end job.
Bridget Jones has often been hailed as a relatable, funny character that readers can identify with; I think a lot of women are selling themselves short if that’s the case. Bridget’s haplessness and lack of initiative are more irritating than endearing. For all the time she spends obsessing over her relationship status or lack thereof, she demonstrates little initiative in pursuing anything, instead relying on friends to coach her through how long to wait for a call or how to behave in front of an ex. This helplessness isn’t just in the domestic arena; here is a woman who spends three pages’ worth of entries struggling with programming a VCR (unsuccessfully). It strained believability at times how this character even made it to adulthood and managed to be a somewhat functional adult.
The other major irritant was the fixation on relationship status. Certainly, it is something many people struggle with, but it dominates the entire plot to that point that most interactions with friends center on dissecting relationships or lamenting bad exes or advising on how to passively capture the attention of a potential boyfriend (this from the token best gay friend, of course). If the movie is remotely faithful to the book, it must utterly fail the Bechdel test.
The book was not without its moments of humor, certainly. Some of the zingers and one-liners were entertaining, and Bridget’s midlife-crisis drama-queen mother was entertaining in her own way. And the character of Mark Darcy, the rich, successful bachelor Bridget’s family is continually trying to set her up with was delightful—if anything, the book would have been improved with more Darcy. Taken as a whole, though, this was not a book I enjoyed
Before I write off the chick lit genre as a whole, however, I would welcome recommendations in the comments below. Readers of chick lit, is there something with a better-developed protagonist out there that a non-chick-lit reader might enjoy?