Book Review: Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make this my first book review since I ended my hiatus from this blog. It feels more apt to come back with a book I absolutely loved (spoiler alert, sorry), but I honestly haven’t read any books that I’m obsessed with recently.

Better to come back with something to say rather than a boring review…

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that I, like most people, am very familiar with the film adaptation. It’s almost like a rite of passage to watch Bridget Jones with your mum in England at this point, and I’ve rewatched it more than once. Because of this, I didn’t go into this book with zero judgements and expectations, and that definitely affected my opinion about it.

Once thing I will note that probably seems obvious, is that the diary form is much more enforced than in the film. Every chapter is an entry into Bridget’s diary, and I think this does actually add to the connection you form with the central character. You’re even more aware that this is her innermost thoughts, and I think I became more invested in her as a result.

This is a classic example of ‘chick-lit’, and if you go in wanting a semi-mindless escapist book then you’ll probably have a really enjoyable reading experience. Is it Chaucer? No. But it does what it’s trying to do very well, and I think it would make a great holiday read. I’m definitely not trying to reinforce the idea that anything marketed as for ‘chicks’ has less value and should be ridiculed, because reading anything has value and worth in itself if you enjoy it.

There are some issues with the book that really damaged my reading experience though. I definitely expected there to be more plot, and this is a far more character-driven novel. I didn’t feel like there was a great amount of character development though, which you would normally expect from a book that’s low on plot. Some people were revealed to be not what they seemed, but that was more of a character twist than development. I think it’s something I’m far more used to seeing in more recent books, and perhaps Fielding was writing just before that trend started.

There are also some problematic ideas and attitudes in this novel, and I would advise anyone who is thinking of reading it to just look at some content warnings. There is frequent mentioning of specific weights, fatphobic comments, and calorie counting throughout, and I do think some of the things said surrounding this could be harmful to someone who was struggling. There is also a comment about sexual harassment at work that hasn’t aged well, so keep that in mind as well.

Scroll to the end of this review to see my rating if you don’t want any spoilers!

In-Depth Thoughts (Spoilers!)

The main thing I noticed between the book and the film was how strangely paced it was. You join Bridget when she’s single with a simple work crush, and before you know it she’s moved in with Daniel Cleaver. Then he gets exposed as a cheater and she’s single again, with brief mentions of Mark Darcy throughout. Suddenly, she’s dating Mark, her mum’s a wanted person, and then at the end he announces his love for her. It just doesn’t seem to follow the timeline established by other romance or chick-lit books, let alone real world logic. It just made me far less invested in the characters and their relationships because nothing felt realistic.

The men also seemed to be presented differently than I expected, with Daniel becoming almost intolerable. Without Hugh Grant’s face attached to his character, he becomes a sleazy office flirt who becomes boring the second you start seeing them, and then has the audacity to cheat on you. Maybe my tolerance for men misbehaving in relationships is lower than women in the late ‘90s, but I just wasn’t sucked in by him. Mark Darcy, on the other hand, was awkward but not as stand-offish as he was in the film. His characterisation was certainly more appealing, but their relationship had no depth to it. It just wasn’t to my taste.

Bridget herself just doesn’t really develop over the course of the book. Sure, she ends up with the nice guy not the player, and maybe she’s got a bit more self love, but she’s ultimately the same as she was when she wrote the first diary entry. This, again, is a sign the book has not aged very well, because I wanted more from her. I really wanted her to realise her worth outside of her relationships, because although she’s an honest and open look at female insecurity, I wanted to find escapism from this through the book. The constant criticism of her weight and appearance got really taxing, and I think it would be a better story if this was toned down slightly.

After all the complaining, I want to highlight some of the aspects that I did like. This book is really funny, and it provides the same entertainment as reality TV or a soap opera does. I was not bored reading this book, which is a great success considering I basically knew the whole plot going into it. I also think that Fielding writes a really great representation of female friendships, and it was nice to read something in which these are given the appropriate level of narrative attention. Bridget Jones’ Diary is also a key text in the chick-lit genre, and it would be a massive oversight to overlook the huge influence it’s had on later popular literature.

Final Thoughts and Rating

Overall, Fielding’s book does what it says on the tin. It’s a feel-good, mindless book written to entertain and give escapism. There are some issues with the book in terms of pacing and character development, and certain elements haven’t aged well, so coming to this completely new to Bridget Jones might not leave you with the most favourable impression, but if you love chick-lit it’s worth a read for sure.

I’m giving Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding 2.5 stars.


Should you Read the Book First?

A long-established dichotomy is that of book vs film, page vs screen, literature vs cinema. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been urged “wait until you’ve read the book before seeing the film” with the threat that I’d “ruin it” for myself if I did otherwise.

I’ve never really stopped to consider whether this has been true in my experience, and to collect my thoughts about this topic. As readers, I’m sure this will be a relatable issue, and hopefully you enjoy this discussion piece!

I think my automatic response to this question is that yes, you should probably read the book first if you are invested in getting the material as directly as possible. I suppose this doesn’t necessarily promote the idea that film is secondary to literature, and I do think that in some cases it makes sense to follow that approach.

There have definitely been times when I’ve held off watching a film because my interest initially lay in reading the book. In some cases, this has lead to me never doing either, largely due to my ever growing tbr pile and unfortunate tendency to get put off whatever my next read is if I decide on it too far in advance. Nevertheless, if I’ve heard good reviews about a book and I really like the concept, I’d try to avoid the film until I got chance to read it.

All of that generally works on the presumption that the film won’t be as good as the book, or at least that it will weaken the reading experience. I do think the latter is true; one of the best parts of reading is getting to imagine everything for yourself, and a film kind of spoils that. I don’t actually think it matters whether the film is better or worse than the book, because I’ve come away from books feeling like the film actually made vast improvements (Bridget Jones’s Diary I’m looking at you).

There are also some films that, despite the fact that they’re adaptations of books, I’m really only interested in the cinematic form. Certain genres are not my favourite to read (action and sci-fi are probably the best examples of this), but I really enjoy watching them. Even if the book is very hyped up or a classic, I’d much rather have an enjoyable watching experience than struggle through a book that’s going to leave me feeling bored and dissatisfied.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge that films are a far more accessible medium of entertainment, and that it’s okay to prefer film. There’s a lot of intellectual snobbery that surrounds the ‘book vs film’ debate, which does very little to address the problem that for some people, reading is not a pleasurable, or in some cases possible, experience. Just as audiobooks have helped widen the accessibility of texts, films bring the concepts and ideas in literature to people more easily.

All in all, I think my opinion is that the divide between book and film should be seen as a far more nuanced relationship than simply competitors. It’s okay to say that certain books should be enjoyed as texts before they are watched as films, but I do think we need to be more careful about how we express these views. In my opinion, it’s better for people to access things in the way that’s best for them, rather than shame people into having a subpar experience of something.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Life as a Literature Student: Month 1

I mention quite often on here that I’m currently an English Literature masters student, and yet I’ve realised I’ve shared very little to do with my experience. I didn’t create this blog to be about my academic life, but it’s becoming more and more of a presence. I don’t really feel like I can keep referring to it in passing (and often using it as an excuse for inconsistent posting) without doing a bit more of a deep dive.

I’ve also been on a bit of a hiatus on this blog because of my studies, so returning with a post updating you all about them feels apt.

I think the best way for me to do this (at least in regards to my postgraduate experience) is through monthly updates. I’ll use these posts to talk about the books I’ve studied, what the highlights and lowlights have been, how my dissertation is progressing, and a brief projection of what the next month has in store. As this post is being published halfway through November, I won’t be giving a projection in this post.

I’m hoping this will be interesting for people who have been or want to be literature students at the very least.

Books I’ve Studied

October’s reading was pretty well varied, and in general I enjoyed what I was required to read. Before I start talking too much about them, here is a comprehensive list of everything I read:

  • Mythos by Stephen Fry
  • The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett
  • Bisclavet by Marie de France
  • This is not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • A selection of poetry by Charles Baudelaire
  • A selection of Romantic poetry (Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley etc.)
  • The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I enjoyed a lot of the books that I studied in October, and this was enhanced by studying them. Whilst the initial reading experience for some of the 19th century texts wasn’t the best, I always find that they retrospectively gain favour once I’ve thought about them more critically. Some books like Mythos and Wuthering Heights had been on my tbr for a while, so it was nice to finally get round to reading these.

I got to study a wide variety of texts, including poetry and children’s literature. I haven’t studied poetry for years, so whilst I had completely forgotten all terminology it was fun to get back into this!

I have to confess that I didn’t like all of the books I read last month though. My least favourite was probably Uncle Tom’s Cabin, mostly because it was a difficult read. Although considered revolutionary at the time, the language and characterisation used is now really unacceptable, and as such I struggled. I found it really interesting to consider the context of the novel though, and we had a really productive conversation about it in our seminar.

Highlight of the Month

Honestly, my highlight for this month is joining such a wonderful postgraduate community through my new course. Because I did a joint honours degree at undergrad, I sometimes felt like I was stuck in between two departments, and struggled to meet people because my time was split in half. Now, I’m on a course with only 30 people, so we’re a far more cohesive group.

I’ve had so many interesting and fun discussions in seminars, and it no longer feels like we’re entering classes to have a fixed discussion about a text. The tutors are taking a week each talking about their specialist interest, so our conversations are always infused with their passion. We get to tailor our sessions to our personal interests to the extent that I haven’t really felt bored at all.

Lowlight of the Month

My lowlight of the month is the workload, which was probably quite evident from my absence on this blog. I think that as much as it was hard being stuck inside during the lockdowns of last year it really forced me to have enough time to get everything done. Now, though, the need to find a good work/life balance is a big priority, but it feels very incongruous to my workload.

I don’t think the matter has been helped by the fact that it’s open season for graduate schemes, so I’ve had that on my plate as well. Honestly, it’s not so bad on a week-to-week basis, but I’ve felt the threat of burn out coming on a couple times already and we’re only just starting to approach deadline season.

Dissertation Progression

I was tempted to take this section out, purely because I think it could be embarrassing if I don’t make much progress between months. However, there’s no point in giving insight into my life and a literature student if I don’t include the bad with the good, so it’s here to stay.

At the moment, my dissertation is firmly in the initial research stage, and I’m currently just refining my topic idea. I’ve been finding it hard to fit work for it in on a weekly basis, and I really need to start deciding on some primary texts. I’m hoping that by the end of November things will have calmed down enough for me to really knuckle down with this, so hopefully in the next couple monthly updates we’ll see real advancement.

I’m not sure whether I’ll be sharing specifics about my dissertation yet (in the interest of anonymity and academic integrity), so for now I’m not going to get into the details. This could change in future monthly updates, I just need to think this through a bit more.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Please wish me luck for the next month of study!


Returning to Posting

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been absent from this blog since the middle of October. This is very bad form from me, and something I’ve been beating myself up about for the last few days (definitely hasn’t helped me to get back into it).

There are quite a few reasons why I’ve been slacking when it comes to posting, chiefly due to being generally overwhelmed. Combining university work with job applications, sports and trying to have a good work/life balance has proven too great a task for me, and as a result I had to let this go for a bit.

I’m hoping I can get back to posting consistently now, and start afresh going into November. I have some content ideas that I’m really excited about, and I’ve got some good reviews coming out soon, so keep an eye out for those!