Gahhh! It has been one of the most hotly anticipated novels in years but before we even got to read a line of the new Bridget Jones book, Mad About The Boy, came the sensational revelation that Mark Darcy is dead.
Quite why author Helen Fielding decided to kill off her dashing leading man remains a mystery, but the news has certainly dominated newspapers and social networks ever since. And the verdict? As Bridget might have noted: v. v. bad.
Of course, technically it means that Bridget is a singleton once more – albeit one with a toyboy, ie the Boy in the book's title. She also has two children from her marriage to Darcy.
But can you really have Bridget without Darcy? And can Brand Bridget stand the test of time anyway? Judging from the first extracts serialised in a national newspaper, the laughs were few and far between.
Here, two writers recall why they loved how the original Bridget seemed to mirror their lives, while another two debate whether it's worth placing that order on Amazon ... or not.
Frances Burscough: Note to self – some things shouldn't be written down
I've always felt a bit of an affinity with the character of Bridget Jones. She too works in the media, trying very hard to flourish in a man's world. She's of a similar age and is also single but with a comically eventful on/off love life. She has a fondness for cigarettes and alcohol, wears big knickers, is always getting into fixes, has a reputation for doing or saying the inappropriate, is hopelessly romantic but naturally melodramatic and has gay friends... yep, just about sums me up too.
In fact, when I wrote a feature about dating for this newspaper, pictures from Bridget Jones's Diary were used to illustrate it. But possibly the closest similarity is our shared compulsion to put things down in writing, in diary form. Things which, sometimes, would be better just kept stored away privately in the mind, under lock and key, for no one to read. Ever.
But I'm instinctively inappropriate. And, (unlike BJ) I'm also pretty much shameless. So here are a few recent extracts from my very own diary.
Dear Diary In London on a 'business' trip. So spent the morning in Topshop on Oxford Street. Tried on loads but looked ridiculous in everything!! I'm finally toooo old (Waaaaahhhhh!!! 'Mutton dressed as lamb' springs to mind).
Got my bum groped on a crowded tube but there were so many people crushed around me I didn't know who to slap. Felt violated – and not in a good way!! Note to self: get pepper spray. But don't buy a bottle that remotely resembles hairspray or it won't be very long before I blind myself.
Dear Diary Remember this date! Put a ring around it in all future diaries. Today son number one got up before midday and actually made me a cup of tea without being asked! This can only mean one thing: he wants something. Now I have to guess what it is so I can prepare my pre-emptive strike. If he wants the house to himself for a party then I'm off to the Marine Court for the weekend. Bliss! Sure, it'd be rude not to!
Dear Diary Kids have gone to their dad's (second) wedding. Not sure how to feel about this or how to mark the occasion. Voodoo doll or cigarettes and alcohol? Or all three!
Opted for a quiet night in, celebrating/commiserating (still haven't decided which) with bottle of bubbly. Not actual champagne, of course. Too skint. Cava Collapso: three for a tenner at Tesco – because I'm worth it!!!! Note to self: Don't drink all three.
Dear Diary OMG went on a date with THE world's biggest drip! He told me within minutes of sitting down in the pub that he suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, "so don't be offended if I suddenly have to dash off to the gents!" Eughh. Charming.
Spent all evening waiting for him to dash off to the gents so I could dash off home, but he didn't – so I had to listen to him talk about himself non-stop for two hours. Lives with his mum! Likes Michael Buble! Wore a Pringle golf sweater!
Kill me now, please. It'd be a mercy.
Dear Diary Holiday finally booked! Only two weeks to attain a 'bikini body' that doesn't in any way resemble a beached whale. Gonna try the Atkins Diet (but my own version which allows alcohol... oh, and chocolate). Haven't read the book or done any research on the subject (too busy) but from what I've read in OK! NOW! and IN! all you do is cut out carbs. Wee buns! Oh, that reminds me, no wee buns either.
Dear Diary Breakfast: Coffee, white no sugar, (eughh...retch) because I can't remember if sugar is carbohydrate or not. Note to self: Remember A -level biology. Or Google it .
Lunch: Ham sandwich but without the bread i.e. half a packet of Bernard Matthews turkey ham (bootiful!) plus two slices of Leerdammer (resistance is futile!) and a glass of UmBongo (they drink it in the Congo! )
Dinner: Chicken Madras from The Asha with NO RICE, NAAN or poppadoms. (This diet is nearly killing me!) So I ordered two main courses instead. Washed down with Cobra (remember, alcohol is allowed in the Frankins Diet!!)
Weight loss so far: No idea, but jeans finally fit again. Tra-laaa!!
Note to self: Buy bathroom scales.
Una Brankin: I'm still 35 on the inside, just like Bridget
Date: 1996, any given week.
Status: Young, free and sort of single. Alcohol units: 14 plus ...
Cigarettes: Pack and a half. Calories: V. bad
When Bridget Jones's Diary was published in 1996 I was working for RTE in Dublin and sharing an attic flat on elegant Georgian Baggot Street with two other girls. It was the pre-boom era, just before Dublin became a mini London, and before the book shops overflowed with pastel-covered chick lit. Bridget Jones was a breath of fresh air and a brilliant social satire, and I'm glad to see writer Helen Fielding is still poking fun at middle-class pretensions in Mad About The Boy.
In the original Diary Bridget is at odds with the tall, slim, glossy Miss Perfects competing for the affections of saintly Mark Darcy and naughty Daniel Cleaver. In the new book, she's offending 'Perfect Class Mother' from the school run, mother of little Atticus, who has a schoolmate preposterously called Thelonius. Brilliant!
Back in the late '90s only the real life Miss Perfects didn't get Bridget. I remember talking to a sensible young solicitor at the time, when there was talk of the book being made into a film. She said she could relate more to the (equally sensible) Andi McDowell character in Green Card – the polar opposite of Bridget. But from the opening scene in the 2006 movie, the rest of us fell for Renee Zellweger as the hapless pudgy singleton in her red pyjamas singing along to All By Myself.
I brought my 79-year-old aunt to see it and she chuckled the whole way through, particularly when Bridget makes soup that turns out blue, and chooses a pair of flesh-coloured granny knickers (above) over some uncomfortable lacies. One of my fave bits came when Bridget, trying to impress Daniel Cleaver, memorably played by a caddish Hugh Grant, with her knowledge of current affairs on their first dinner date.
"Isn't the situation in Chechnya just awful?" she remarks.
"Who GIVES a f*** Jones?" says Cleaver, not missing a beat.
I hope Hugh Grant is available for the inevitable film of Mad About The Boy. Fans are up in arms about the death of Darcy; I think it's a masterstroke. It lends poignancy to the new story and will have them weeping in the aisles at the cinema. In the excerpts Fielding has allowed to be published in advance, we're not told the cause of the death, five years previously, but see the 51-year-old widow hit by thoughts of "if only" and trying to hold back the sorrow engulfing her "like a tsunami".
"Has it really been five years?" she writes. "Oh Mark. Mark. What am I doing? Why did I start all this? Why didn't I just stay as I was? Sad, lonely, workless, sexless but at least a mother, widow and faithful ..." She's referring to her new liaison with a 30-year-old toyboy – not as unusual nowadays in this era of cougars like Demi Moore and Sharon Stone. In her obsession over him we see that Bridget hasn't really grown up at all. A mature, considered heroine wouldn't do at all. As in all good writing, it was the little details of Bridget's scatty life that touched a chord in the original book and film.
In Dublin my friends and I all took a notion for Chardonnay and drank too much of it. We ate far too much junk food. We stayed in alone and heartbroken in frumpy pyjamas plenty of times, listening to overblown ballads and feeling sorry for ourselves. Like Bridget, I had fallen for a commitment-shy good-time boy with whom I'd either be on cloud nine or drowning in the doldrums. I was working in the media and, like Bridget, feeling I was getting nowhere fast.
We'd all leave Dublin for Christmas and go home to the country and wear festive jumpers. Like Bridget's mum, mine would fret that I hadn't met "anyone nice" yet. Like Bridget's dad, mine would declare the Christmas Day gathering in our house "torture".
Some 17 years on, Fielding still manages to capture the little things we can relate to so well in Bridget. She complains about being unable to work modern TVs with their three remote controls with 90 buttons "designed by 13-year-old technogeeks competing with each other in sordid bedrooms".
She compulsively checks her emails. She hates people that talk on their mobile phones in cafes, then proceeds to do so herself. She worries the nanny looks after her two children better than she does. She hides empty wine bottles. She sets time aside for meditation, then spends it faffing around the house and looking for the "effing car keys". She never completes her unrealistically ambitious yoga, Pilates and Zumba regimes or gets round to de-cluttering under the stairs and or reading the remote control manuals.
Sounds familiar? It does to me. Fielding sums up the quandary of middle-aged woman who never really grew up by having Bridget paraphrase Oscar Wilde: "Thirty-five is the perfect age for a woman, so much so that many women have decided to adopt it for the rest of their lives."
Like Bridget, I'm 35 on the inside. But my Daniel Cleaver turned out to be a Mark Darcy at heart, when he grew up a bit, and we're married 11 years now. So I'll enjoy Bridget obsessing over toyboy Roxster when the film comes out, but I'll be thanking God that – as she would put it – am not doing same.
Yes, I'm going to give Bridget another chance, writes Linda Stewart
No one aspires to be Bridget Jones. She's not the sleekly coiffed lawyer pal that you secretly dread running into or the supermum who does all her own baking while rearing four perfectly coordinated Boden-clad moppets.
No, Bridget is the daffy mate who allows you to relax with a glass of wine and tell yourself: 'Well at least I'm doing some things right.' She's crap at her job and her love life is a rollercoaster of humiliating moments. But you love hanging out with her because she makes you laugh like a drain.
Now Bridget is 51, a mum-of- two battling a nit outbreak. She's obsessed with her lack of Twitter followers and has been a widow for five years.
None of us were expecting Mark Darcy to meet his maker but now we know he's gone it seems almost inevitable. Bridget pottering about in wedded bliss or hell would have been an impossible challenge – there's nothing to drive the story on. Now we have a reset, but one that still chimes with all the Bridget fans whose lives have also moved on.
So far, the extracts haven't set my world on fire. We have a paint-by-numbers overachieving mum, a boy who has yet to convince and hadn't we decided that Vile Richard wasn't so vile? How can Jude still be obsessing over him 20 years on?
But Bridget Jones isn't just any old chick lit – the detail is beautifully observed and the set-ups are genius. Not to mention a few of the filthier conversations which absolutely cannot be repeated in a family newspaper. Who wants to read a book with a perfect protagonist anyway? I'm looking at you, boring Dorothea Brooke.
So Bridget, I'm sticking with you. I want to know what happens and I'm not writing you out of my Christmas card list just yet.
No, it's a dud. You'd be better off reading the first two books again, writes Gail Walker Deputy Editor
So Darcy's dead. Well out of it, I say. Who knows what prompted Helen Fielding to kill off her leading man in the new Bridget Jones novel? Perhaps she suspected that Colin Firth, post The King's Speech and elevated to the heady ranks of Character Actor called in to bring class and gravitas to a movie, might not be up for another hammy comedy turn in Bridget 3? Not once more into the damp breeches after all ... Perhaps she thought that her heroine – the original singleton – has to be, well, single? Or perhaps, judging by the lacklustre extracts printed in a national newspaper, she felt she needed a v. v. g. plot twist to revive interest?
Certainly, the sensational news has bought her time. There's been so many column inches about Darcy's demise that it has distracted attention away from our first look at the new book. And for Fielding that's been a good thing indeed. Because on the evidence so far it's a dud. One wonders what the atmosphere was like in the good offices of The Sunday Times magazine as they laid out their exclusive installment. Was some hapless sub pounced upon by a commissioning editor, demanding reassurance that this was, well, the funniest thing since the last Bridget Jones outing? In which case, forced laughter all round and a quick sortie to the loos to talk over the imminent calamity with fellow hacks.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will already know of my own disappointment. I've great affection for the first two books, not least because they're bound up in memories of one of the loveliest friends I ever had who is sadly no longer with us. She'd been on an exotic holiday but, a la Bridget, had ended up spending much of it with her nose buried in the inaugural Diary.
As soon as she got home she pressed it into my hands, begging me to read it. It was so hilarious that in my own little homage to Bridget I think I may even have bunked off work for a day to finish it.
Of course, there have been pompous thought pieces this week about how Bridget's obsessions – weight, ageing, alcohol intake, men – are anti-feminist, encouraging women to hate themselves, but that misses the point. In fact, Bridget evoked a new kind of solidarity, with women finally talking to each other about all the things each one knew about but had by and large soldiered on with alone – whether it was the military style prep required for a first date or just the head melt of dealing with what Bridget memorably termed "emotional f***wittage" from Himself. Fielding's skills of social observation – and humour – were brilliant.
But the 2013 Bridget hasn't made me laugh. In the first extract there was a lame gag about a woman called Nicolette who she called Nicorette by mistake ... yeah, the anti-smoking things. Geddit? An appearance by her two best pals was gratingly tedious and a section about her children having nits was as funny as, um, having nits.
One friend who had pre-ordered the new book is now trying to cancel it. My advice? For a true Bridget fix, re-read the first two. Surprisingly they haven't really dated at all. Ok, Bridget's a bit obsessed with a new 1471 thing that allows you to check the last caller on your phone. And she has yet to discover hair straighteners – imagine Fielding's version of that scene played out in offices across Northern Ireland every day as harassed women race to work then try to remember if they've unplugged the damn things before ringing their sloth-like husbands, who are just clambering out of bed to check out what Susannah Reid is wearing on BBC Breakfast. But most of the original writing still sparkles, based as it is on life's great truths.
I wouldn't bother with the films which weren't actually v. g. at all. The first one was on again the other night and it's Van singing Someone Like You which clinches the big romantic ending, not Rene and Colin's clinch in the fake snow. If you do want to read something else by Fielding, order her first novel, Cause Celeb, which is a cracking – and funny– read about a PR girl who averts famine in Africa. Oh, and try to forget that Darcy dies. Otherwise, even the first two novels get imbued with a kind of pointlessness and melancholy.
The author's own story
Helen Fielding was born in 1958 in Morley, West Yorkshire. Bridget Jones's Diary began life as an anonymous column in The Independent. Her first two books, Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason have been published in 40 countries and sold more than 15m copies. After moving to the US, around 1999, she began a relationship with Kevin Curran, writer/executive producer of The Simpsons and they had children, Dash, born in 2004 and Romy, born in 2006. The couple split in 2009.