The Book Club

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Hi Katha,
     Missed you. And you’re basically spot on, I think, about Bridget. I have to say I howled embarrassingly out loud reading it–often over my daily scrambled eggs in Provincetown’s Cafe Heaven. Various tank-topped homos and glowering lesbians gave me odd looks as I guffawed into my melon slice. As beach reading, it would be hard to beat (except I also devoured Auberon Waugh’s autobiography, Will This Do?, foisted upon us both by our saintly editor). Not very deep, I’d venture. But the cooking scenes particularly amused me. The first thing I did in my new summer studio was wheel out the stove, to the mild amusement of my neighbors. What am I going to cook on the beach? A pot roast?
     Thought I’d share my single favorite passage on the travails of dieting. Bridget’s friend, Jude, advises her that the key to making diets work is to write everything down to make sure you comply. Here is Bridget’s list:
     “Breakfast: hot cross bun (Scarsdale Diet–slight variation on specified piece of whole wheat toast); Mars Bar (Scarsdale Diet–slight variation on specified half grapefruit) Snack: two bananas, two pears (switched to F-plan as starving and cannot face Scarsdale carrot snacks). Carton orange juice (Anti-Cellulite Raw-Food Diet). Lunch: potato (Scarsdale Vegetarian Diet) and hummus (Hay Diet–fine with baked spuds as all starch, and breakfast and snack were all alkaline-forming with exception of hot-cross bun and Mars: minor aberration) Dinner: four glasses of wine, fish and chips (Scarsdale Diet and also Hay Diet–protein forming); portion tiramisu; Toblerone (pissed).”
     One thing I wondered. This book is very, very English. In the preceding passage, for example, I wonder how many Americans will know what a hot-cross bun is (sounds like some spanky version of sadomasochism, but is in fact, a currant-filled biscuit made only in Easter week), or a Mars Bar (which is almost the same as a Snickers). I think most American readers will sadly miss a lot of these details, in particular the brilliant way in which Fielding captures the upper middle class hell Bridget comes from, with its sub-Oxbridge sloanes, social climbing parents, and curious English mix of completely postmodern mores with 19th century social anxieties. Also, most American Thirtysomething Singletons who drink as much as Bridget would be regarded as alcoholics. In London, she’s a virtual tee-totaller. Other little Britishisms might escape people. Like the constant little “(v.g)”s, meaning “very good.” For some reason, this is a favorite margin scribble of most English schoolteachers who want to commend something in someone’s writing. Unless you have written for The New Yorker, where (people tell me), Ms. Brown is wont to scribble “v. hot” in the margins of raw copy, this particular abbreviation might have eluded you.
     Only a couple of things irritated me. I don’t mind Bridget’s completely transparent desire to get married and have kids and not be found dead in her 80s eaten by an Alsatian. The Weekly Standard, in a hilarious piece of self-parody, declared Bridget proof of the utter failure of feminism. Oh, please. Bridget wants to have it both ways–career and love, kiddies and power lunches–and she’s honest enough to recognize this. She veers from one fantasy to the other but, obviously, like most women (and many men) she yearns for intimacy more than power. I don’t see what on earth that has to do with feminism, which has always seemed to me to be a largely admirable movement designed to give women the same impossible choices that the rest of the human race grapples with.
     But the fathomless flippancy got under my skin a little. It’s very English to want to reduce everything to a joke, and although this is far more admirable than taking everything completely seriously, it gets on your nerves after a while. Female equality is still a distant prospect in England, but it’s far cooler to make fun of the whole thing than to do anything about it.
     I’m also sick to death of these wise, caring, sage homos who are now all the rage. My Best Friend’s Wedding, Object of My Affection, etc, etc. Bridge’s best friend, Tom, is a gay man, but he might as well be the Dalai Lama. His elusive boyfriend, Jerome, hardly ever appears; and the notion that Tom himself might have a life and might even have sex–or “shag,” as Bridge would say–is, of course, completely off the map. Meanwhile the heteros are shagging each other silly (extremely implausible in London, I’d say), in multiple combinations. I guess it’s better than complete invisibility, but it’s also classically English. They like their homos elegant, witty, running the National Opera, swanning about in bathrobes, and providing sage Noel Coward-like advice to forlorn single women. When I was in England, this used to prompt a simple response from me. It went something like AAAARGH.
     Final thought: Do you think any straight men would read this book? Or find it funny? Salman Rushdie gives a positive blurb, but he’s clearly posing.
     Oh, and I think it appeared in the Independent, not the Daily Telegraph. Big difference.