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A terrible disappointment
on 2 August 2014
I bought this having read the original two books years ago and I enjoyed those thoroughly. The singleton Bridget of the 1990s was a cultural phenomenon many could relate to. However, this third instalment is a huge disappointment and I fear that Helen Fielding may have tarnished Bridget's legacy permanently. I had to force myself to finish it as it was actually a rather unpleasant read.
*This review contains spoilers*
In my opinion Helen Fielding has transformed Bridget from a loveably scatty character into a selfish monster. It made sense that a singleton in her 30s such as Bridget would be wrapped up in her own feelings and goals, because she was a single working woman trying to make her own way in life. However, in 'Mad About The Boy', Bridget is 51 and a widow with two young children. Therefore, you would assume that she would have developed as a character during the 15 fictional years that have passed since the last instalment but for some strange reason, she has not. 51-year-old Bridget does not appear to have developed psychologically in any way since the last book, despite having been through several life-changing experiences. Although the opening section of the book is quite moving, it soon becomes clear that Bridget's general approach to life has remained the same as before, which just doesn't make sense. This in itself makes it extremely difficult to visualise Bridget as being 51 rather than in her mid-thirties.
Helen Fielding has taken Bridget's least attractive traits and exaggerated them to the point where all her former charm has been obliterated. Bridget is completely obsessed with her own needs and desires, primarily the pursuit of men and her physical appearance. Everyone else in her life comes way down her list of priorities, including her children. Bridget doesn't work and employs a nanny and a cleaner, yet still struggles to achieve the very short list of domestic tasks she has to deal with. I just can't understand this. 30-something Bridget may have been disorganised and chaotic but she was never an idiot. This new Bridget seems to be unable to handle much at all, to the extent where you wonder if she's actually mentally unstable.
My biggest problem with Bridget's character is her sidelining of her children. She shows a distinct lack of interest in them; for example, she barely shows any concern when she receives a message from her daughter's school saying her daughter has a septic finger! Bridget doesn't seem to be bothered about having much quality time or conversation with her children and spends most of the time palming them off on the nanny, friends or family - the result of this is that we are left knowing very little about them as characters. They are essentially objects wheeled into the story periodically to provide some pathos and then wheeled out again so that Bridget can go back to thinking about herself. Is this really the kind of parenting style Helen Fielding intended Bridget to have? If so, she (Ms Fielding) should be thoroughly ashamed of herself for creating such a self-centred, detached mother.
Helen Fielding has done a similar disservice to Bridget's 'co-stars', making them (almost) as unpleasant and two-dimensional as her heroine. Bridget's friends have been transformed from a witty support network to little more than cynical commentators whose main function is pushing Bridget around and criticising her. This is a shame, as in the earlier books Bridget's friends played such an important role in keeping her going.
As for the plot, it's hard to actually remember what happens in the story, even a couple of days after finishing the book. The key developments are that she dates a toy-boy, is dumped by him and then gets together with a man she initially disliked, after learning that he has integrity and hidden depths. It is essentially a re-hash of the first book's romantic plotline but even then, Roxster and Mr Wallaker are much blander versions of Daniel and Mark. Helen Fielding doesn't manage to make either relationship that believable - both men are left two-dimensional and unrounded as characters. The speed with which Bridget cements her relationship with Mr Wallaker at the end of the book is also totally implausible - she barely knows the man but within a few paragraphs and an epilogue has created domestic bliss with him. It's lazy writing on Helen Fielding's part to plonk a happy ending onto the end in such a vague and clumsy manner and expect readers to be satisfied and in my view, also quite arrogant.
Other than the romance, there is very little else of note in the plot. Bridget's day-to-day life is very dull and a sub-plot about her writing a screenplay, which could potentially have been compelling, is toyed with and ultimately left unresolved. Bridget's obsession with Twitter and texting quickly becomes extremely tedious, as does her friends' preoccupation with online dating. These elements are obviously a mechanism for bringing Bridget into the current era but Fielding overdoes it to such an extent that it becomes ludicrous and cringe-worthy.
When reading the book, I felt strongly that Fielding's mind was firmly focused on the inevitable movie adaptation. She has shoe-horned the character of Daniel Cleaver sporadically into the plot, presumably as a means of getting him on the movie poster and there is ubiquitous product placement throughout the book - I can't think that is purely unintentional. Furthermore, by the way certain characters are described, I got a strong impression that Fielding had already decided who she wanted to be cast for some parts and formed the characters accordingly. Rebecca smacks of Helena Bonham-Carter and Mr Wallaker, a former SAS man with a 'ripped body' who Bridget describes directly as 'James Bond', makes me wonder whether Fielding has her eye on Daniel Craig for that role. We will have to wait and see...
Of course, Bridget's world is still populated by upper middle-class, affluent, mainly white men and women who are obviously shallow in their friendships and world-view. This was the case in the previous books but in this one, Fielding positively revels in her portrayal of an elitist collection of parents decked out in designer clothes, dropping their pretentiously-named children off at the private school gates and seemingly having little else to do but e-mail trivialities about school events to each other. We are all used to this stereotypically charmed world which has been repeatedly shown in Richard Curtis movies but, in the context of a post-recession, ethnically diverse country, it is all rather distasteful and anachronistic.
I think I've gone on enough! I will end by saying that Bridget fans who decide to read this book should be prepared for disappointment.