‘Mad About the Boy’ is Helen Fielding’s third Bridget Jones novel, and it quickly becomes clear that Ms Jones, now Mrs Darcy, is in a rather different place in her life from where we left her at the end of ‘The Edge of Reason’.

That Bridget is now a fifty-one year old widow and mother of two young children comes as a shock: Mark Darcy died five years beforehand, and Bridget, our dear friend, is to be found plunged into a grief so deep, so raw, that it’s hard to imagine how she can ever emerge from it.

The twin, humourless miseries of grief and loneliness are unexpected and poignant. A glimpse of the years we have missed is provided by references to the ‘large house in Holland Park’, where the lovely Mark Darcy had hired a chef to cook for them on Christmas Day.   The episode with the children coming home from school with their hand-made Fathers’ Day Cards, addressed to ‘Daddy, Heaven, Space,’ and ceremoniously posted, with Bridget wondering whether the postman will be traumatised, is almost unbearable to read.

Above all, however, this book is the story of Bridget emerging from the darkness, and it is the gorgeous but much younger Roxby McDuff, aka  Roxster, who sets her on her way.   Cautious dating, miscommunications, wobbles and lots of fun culminate in Bridget’s triumphant appearance at a party, escorted by Roxster, whose charm, youth and rugged allure stuns her friends, and who caps all of this by diving into the pool to rescue a Chihuahua.

“A gentleman to the last”, notes Bridget.  Roxby is  handsome, intelligent, kind, funny and saves small dogs from drowning – but Bridget was ‘twenty-three when he was born,’ and inevitably he drunkenly gives himself away by wishing out loud that he had a time machine.  The age-gap was never going to work, and Bridget ruefully but without rancour lets him go.

But what of Bridget’s previous love interest, Daniel Cleaver?  How on earth Mark Darcy had gone from fighting him in the water at the Serpentine Gallery to accepting him as godfather to his children, Fielding doesn’t make clear.  Very sweetly, however, Daniel has dedicated himself to helping the widowed Bridget, although his comedy characteristics of lechery and debauched drunkenness turn out to have a much more serious undertone.

Meanwhile, the spirit of Mark Darcy has not gone away, but is now evoked by the apparently sneering, snooty Mr Walleker, Bridget’s small son’s teacher.  His curt yet knowingly mocking manner reminds us of Fielding’s and Jane Austen’s Mr Darcies.  In his glamourous white shirt at the school concert he reminds us of Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy in the famous Pride and Prejudice  adaptation: a confection of the two Mr Darcies combined, as Colin Firth of course played Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones movies.

You were misunderstood by Bridget at first, weren’t you Mr Walleker,…*purrs*… but didn’t you turn out to be….just…perfect…..

The sad parts of ‘Mad About the Boy’ were so desperately poignant that I found my eyes brimming over, and the funny bits so jaunty that they elicited a spontaneous chuckle.  Bridget is the old friend we love to bits, who takes us along on her journey, the type whose antics are fodder for coffee-shop gossip ( “A toyboy! Neat vodka at sportsday!”) yet for whom we only want the very, very best.

This is classic Bridget Jones, and I suspect that the most appreciative readers will be Bridget’s fellow-travellers, who have loved her and lived like her since she was a thirty-something singleton in the Nineties.

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