It is the evening of the publication of Mad About the Boy, Fielding’s first novel in 10 years, which has reached number one in the book charts. Fielding has already been on the One Show and the 6 o’clock radio news. Fielding is at this draughty hall in Primrose Hill to talk with veteran broadcaster, Sue MacGregor, to raise money for her local community library.
Initially panned by the critics as inauthentic, anti-feminist and an unrealistic portrayal of a now middle-aged Bridget, Mad About the Boy is slowly beginning to receive positive reviews. Fielding’s long, gold chain glitters, catching the light as she smiles, and she is seemingly unperturbed by negative reactions to the book. She dealt with criticism after the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary, in 1996. “We’ve got to be able to have comic heroines without being so terribly anxious about what it says,” she said then.
I loved the book and films. At 17, I admired Bridget for her lack of self-reflection, her guilelessness, and for having the impetuosity to run outside in the snow in her jumper and leopard-print knickers.
I enjoyed Mad About The Boy. It’s funny. Daniel Cleaver has become a parody of all the dreaded Uncle Geoffrey’s at parties, and the satirical views of over-zealous North London mothers and their offspring (Atticus and Luigi), and Bridget’s responses to their frantic emails and organised lunches, make me smile.
Her relationship with her younger boyfriend is humorous, especially when he reads an article about toy boys and the rise of the sinister cougar, and gets scared, and when she sees a sign for an over-50s’ club (activities include bingo and tea dancing), and gets Botox.
It’s poignant when Bridget sits at home alone on a Saturday night, or when she wishes Mark was there to accompany her and her two children to the school play, or when she remembers her much-loved father. Just as in previous novels, Bridget’s still searching for love, and being a klutz and over-eating (this time, it’s bags of grated cheese), and furiously chewing Nicorette gum.
There are a few clunkers in the book. The language can try too hard, like a grandmother trying to be hip: Bridget sees a young ‘iBabe’ in a bar, and one of the mothers threatens her children with ‘Don’t you dare touch that dustbin or I shall enter you in the Hunger Games’.
The major criticism of the novel has been the ‘cruel’ death of Mark Darcy. Although I never understood his appeal. He was just so deathly dull.
“I don’t think cruel is quite fair, because we have to remember that he’s not actually a living person,” says Fielding, referring to the horror in online forums after the death of Darcy was revealedprior to the book’s publication.
“I wanted to make her be in that situation [a single mother], and I was also fascinated by the internet age. When I first wrote Bridget, there wasn’t even the internet. Daniel Cleaver’s messages [about the short skirt] was just the office-messaging service.
“I nearly didn’t put in her age, but it’s like the 30-something spinster — it’s like the idea that when you get to a certain age, you’re going to start knitting, although there’s nothing wrong with that. She does have to handle certain things she didn’t have to handle before, but she’s basically the same person,” says Fielding, a 55-year-old single mother of two.
Fielding’s talent is making the mundane funny. “What makes me laugh? Life,” she says, joking that the long gap between books was because she had discovered the internet and had been “Googling for 16 years”.
Her previous attempts to write serious novels were unsuccessful. “I can only sort of write about what I know,” says Fielding, although she is not Bridget Jones.
But Fielding is not as flighty as she appears. She wrote for three hours every morning before going to work on the political desk at the Independent. She says her first novel, Cause Celeb, was ‘unreadable’, but fails to mention that it garnered good reviews. She’s apparently worth £30m. Likewise, Bridget is not as stupid as she appears, despite texting her boyfriend during an important meeting about the publication of her screenplay, and obsessively counting Twitter followers. Jones has raised two children on her own, written a screenplay, and is described as a ‘genius’ by her erstwhile publisher.
Many women still feel a kinship towards Bridget and her mishaps, and women in the audience raise their hands and speak about their personal lives. We’ve all identified with Bridget, be it as a single thirty-something-year-old, or a widowed 51-year-old.
A 15-year-old fan asks Fielding about the friendships in the book, tripping out the names Shazza and Jude confidently, as if she knew these characters well.
“The measure of happiness isn’t the partner, it’s the wider group. People go through different phases in their lives, but it’s really friends who carry you through,” says Fielding, who mentions that her friend, film producer Richard Curtis, is in the audience.
“The thing I like about the character is that she does have this joie-de-vivre, she dusts herself off and gets going again,” says Fielding.
“If you’re ever feeling a big down, a mixture of a self-help book and a PG Wodehouse can’t be beaten,” says Fielding, who thought she had coined the term ‘singleton’, but later realised she had inadvertently borrowed it from Wodehouse.
It’s obvious how fortunate Fielding feels to have success third time ‘round. “It’s a wonderful thing to happen and you can’t complain about it,” she says. “Honestly, for the first event in the evening, it’s been a really lovely way to start it off and keep [my] feet on the ground.”
Afterwards, a long queue of women snakes around the hall waiting for Fielding to sign their book. When it’s my turn, I tell her I’m a 34-year-old singleton who’s recently moved to London and I ask her to write something heartening. She looks up at me while continuing to write, before thrusting the book back at me. ‘KBO,’ she’s written inside, which I find out later is Bridget’s motto: ‘keep buggering on’.