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'Singleton' Adds New Entries to Her Diary

Book Review

BRIDGET JONES, The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding. Viking $24.95, 338 pages

March 06, 2000|MERLE RUBIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Bridget Jones's Diary," a comic fictional account of days in the life of a young single woman in London, got its start as a newspaper column. It went on to become a novel, which, in turn, became an international bestseller. Not one to quarrel with success, Bridget's creator, British journalist and novelist Helen Fielding (now living in Los Angeles), has written a sequel. It, too, takes the form of a diary written in Bridget's by-now-familiar voice.

For those unfamiliar with that voice, herewith a sample:

"129 lbs. (total fat groove), boyfriends 1 (hurrah!), shags 3 (hurrah!), calories 2,100, calories used up by shags 600, so total calories 1,500 (exemplary). . . . Hurrah! The wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared. Feel marvelous, rather like Posh Spice . . ."

Bridget and her friends Jude and Sharon are single London career girls who resent their friends who have abandoned "Singleton-hood" to become "Smug Marrieds." Bridget and her gal-pals spend a great deal of time reminding one another that a woman doesn't need a man to be a whole person. They also spend a lot of time planning to lose weight, cut down on alcohol and cigarettes, and improve their physiques so as to be more attractive to the men they don't need. They spend even more time smoking, drinking and devouring self-help books. The books provide all kinds of advice: how to be less selfish and how to be more selfish; how to attract men and how to free yourself from men.

As the novel opens, Bridget has finally gotten together with the man of her dreams, Mark Darcy, as his name suggests, a latter-day incarnation of the hero of "Pride and Prejudice." ("Oh God," notes Bridget, "feel guilty with Jude and Sharon now I have boyfriend, almost like traitorous double-crossing side-switching guerrilla.") But Bridget's romantic problems are far from over. There's a slim, stylish, scheming rival on the horizon with the ominous name Rebecca, the kind of woman other women hate. (Vide: Blanche Ingram of "Jane Eyre" or Rebecca de Winter of "Rebecca.")

*

Even apart from Rebecca's machinations, Bridget and Mark have not exactly perfected the art of communicating with one another. Soon, things have gotten so bad, Bridget begins to wonder if her beloved self-help books are ruining her relationships. In a desperate moment, she tosses them into the rubbish. Later (one of my favorite moments), she comes across a copy of Kipling's once-revered but now-unfashionable poem "If" (with lines like: "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, / But make allowance for their doubting too") and has to admit, "Poem is good. Very good, almost like self-help book."

Bridget's adventures are amusing, but neither this book nor its predecessor is really much of a novel. Both have more in common with stand-up comedy routines. Although the comic novels of Jane Austen--or Barbara Pym--uncover the depths below the surfaces, the Jones chronicles are all veneer. As Bridget herself might put it: "Character delineation and development (on a scale of 0 to 100, O being Archie and Veronica, 100 being Raskolnikov): 2." Considered from another perspective, Bridget, Jude and Sharon are far less distinctively drawn than Monica, Rachel and Phoebe of "Friends." Old-time comedians had a word for this: shtick.

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