Bridget Jones Is Back: The Rise Of Middle-Aged Chick-Lit

Chick-lit is the shameless tart of the literary world, but Helen Fielding's addition to the Bridget Jones franchise shows that it's still going strong.
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Chick-lit is the shameless tart of the literary world, but Helen Fielding's addition to the Bridget Jones franchise shows that it's still going strong.

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Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones's Diary is now almost twenty years old – a fact that will have many of Bridget’s former thirty-something contemporaries running for the anti-ageing cream. Having originally debuted as an Independent column series in 1995 and spanning outwards to encompass two full-length novels and films, it’s fair to say that Fielding’s creation has become as recognizable a figure in popular culture as him off the Go Compare ads. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the announcement of the third installment of the Bridget series, Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, has been greeted in by the fifty-something crowd with welcome arms and ready-poured glasses of wine.

Released 10th October 2013, the book follows an older Bridget in current-day London, with Fielding revealing little more about the plot but that “Bridget’s life has moved on”. Unabashedly ‘deeply shallow’ publisher Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape promises as high a level of narcissism as ever, stating that Jones will be “doing it again, this time with all the joys and complications of social media”. The short extract released from the book show Bridget’s life to be as uncomfortably relatable as they always were, with ‘11.27 p.m. Just presss d SEND. Iss fineisn’t it?’ being quickly followed by ‘DATING RULE NO. 1: DO NOT TEXT WHEN DRUNK’.

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Despite Fielding’s initial inclination for serious journalism, having started her career researching a documentary about the South Sudan rebel war, her talent for writing about big knickers has ultimately won out.  Mad About The Boy is Bridget for the digital age; all the single-woman problems of the mid-to-late-nineties with the added embarrassments that only a culture obsessed with oversharing and social media could provide. The success of Fielding’s novels in the past has always relied on the strong sense of empathy her target audience feels with her protagonist, and so updating Bridget to the world of self-conscious sexting promises to deliver the funny-when-it’s-not-happening-to-you humiliations that made the previous two books so successful.

The release of Fielding’s novel comes at a time when chick-lit for older women is making an obnoxiously loud comeback, casting aside the moonlit sunsets of Mills & Boon for the worryingly sturdy handcuffs of 50 Shades of Grey. Mad About The Boy reflects the relatively new phenomenon brought about by the internet of women entering the dating game progressively later in life, resulting in years more opportunity for horrendous encounters and terrible first dates.  Presumably we can expect to see Bridget on the acacia berry diet, compulsively checking her love interest’s Instagram, and obsessively collecting pictures of wedding dresses on Pinterest.

Having worked in a bookshop when 50 Shades was released, it would be hypocritical to claim that being contractually obliged to sell graphic BDSM erotica novels to older women all day wasn't a slightly scarring experience, but the rise of baby-boomer chick-lit is undoubtedly a good thing. Nobody really writes about the trials and tribulations of romance for women past a certain age, meaning that those who were searching for love and weight loss with Bridget first-time round are now in a literary desert. Awkward though it is to admit that your mum might want to live vicariously, denying everyone but implausibly lithe twenty-year-olds fictional doppelgängers seems somewhat churlish.

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It’s not Shakespeare – but it isn't trying to be. Bridget Jones doesn't characterize the best side of modern womanhood; to her, feminism is solely the freedom to shag indiscriminately and Pussy Riot sounds like a particularly nasty STD. Even the most fervent Fielding fan would have to admit that it’s fairly likely that Mad About The Boy will be as devoid of substance as its prequels, but then that isn't what they’re about. The Bridget franchise isn't supposed to be the most well-crafted collection of books – like all guilty pleasures, it carefully balances on the line between engaging and slightly shit. Just as the James Bond books are held up more by their unlikely one-liners and occasional insertion of nudity than their expert writing, Mad About The Boy will almost certainly be as fluffy as what came before it. And like the relentless success of James Bond despite increasingly forced innuendos,  Mad about the Boy will do well.

Whether Fielding has deliberately decided to latch on to the forty-plus romance revival or is simply writing a caricature of her own experience, the fact remains that targeting the relatively specific audience niche of middle-aged women is a bet that is almost certain to pay off. Everybody needs a release from the monotony of real life, whether it be Game of Thrones or TOWIE, and middle-aged women have always been some of the biggest consumers of escapism. It’s okay to think that Bridget Jones is a crap representation of modern women – her target audience know that as well. It’s pretty much a dead cert that Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy will be largely frivolous and hugely successful, and that’s fine; the point is that it’s pointless.