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…
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.