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Bridget Jones and the Dating Wars

Review of Helen Fielding. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, London: Picador 1999. 422 pp. UK 12.99 pounds.

It's official: Bridget Jones is back. We last saw her in Bridget Jones's Diary hiccupping off into the sunset with her own Prince Charming, Mark Darcy. The Edge of Reason starts with a triumphant: "Hurrah! The wilderness years are over. For four weeks and five days now have been in functional relationship with adult male thereby proving am not love pariah as previously feared". But the chapter is titled "Happily Ever After" and knowing our Bridget, you know that this pink, quasi-marital, feel-good haze cannot go on for the next 400-odd pages. Sure enough, she discovers what it is like to have the man of your dreams actually in your flat: "V. complicated actually having man in house as cannot freely spend requisite amount of time in bathroom...."

Then there's boyfriend-stealer Rebecca, with "thighs like a baby giraffe". She has designs on Mark, and makes her first move: "Bridge, how's it going with Mark? You must be really pleased to get a boyfriend at last." Pawn to King Four.

Bridget's "besfriens" Jude and Shaz are the chief strategists of the keep-Mark-out-of-Rebecca's-clutches campaign. The three regroup frequently, and amidst much Chardonnay and pizzas, dissect the enemy mercilessly.

The problem is that the dissection doesn't stop with the enemy; the "dating war command", as Mark calls them, micromanage each other's love-lives constantly. "Don't ever do that, wait for him to do say that", they urge each other with the bleak premise that "women are staying single because they can support themselves and want to do their careers, then when they get older all the men think they're desperate re-treads with sell-by dates and just want someone younger". This philosophy is buttressed by a morass of self-help books: How to Date Young Women: A Guide For Men Over Thirty-Five; If the Buddha Dated; Beyond Co-dependency With a Man Who Can't Commit; Happy to Be Single. As Mark remarks: "You do realize that you're building up the largest body of theoretical knowledge about the behaviour of the opposite sex in the known universe. I'm starting to feel like a laboratory animal!"

The experiment in this laboratory goes awry. Trying desperately to find the right mantra to set it right, Bridget cries: "Whole dating world is like hideous game of bluff and double bluff with men and woment firing at each other from opposite lines of sandbags. Is as if there is a set of rules that you are supposed to be sticking to, but no one knows what they are so everyone just makes up their own. Then you end up getting chucked because you didn't follow the rules correctly, but how could you be expected to, when you didn't know what they were in the first place?"

This despair of "Singletons" in a world of "Smug Marrieds" runs throughout Bridget's musings at the "edge of reason". It's a jungle out there, folks, a world of emotional predation and self-loathing. Not to mention some very strange people: take the "fashionable Trustafarian girls at the next table. One was tapping at her laptop and wearing Timberlands, a petticoat, a Rastafarian bonnet and a fleece, while the other in Prada stilettos, hiking socks, surfing shorts, a floor-length llamaskin coat and a Bhutanese herdsman's woolly hat with earflaps, was yelling into her mobile headset...."

Matters are not helped by Mum who's off gallivanting to Kenya with a friend, leaving Dad behind ("Honestly, Bridget! Life is for living!"), and returns with Wellington ("he's a Kikuyu! A Kikuyu! Imagine!") -- "an enormous black youth with a loop of flesh hanging from each ear."

Dad hits the bottle, and Wellington dispenses proverbs ("In darkness, stone becomes the buffalo"). Rebecca grabs Mark, and Bridget's hilarious diary headers hit a new low: "9st 2, alcohol units 5, cigarettes 9 (must stop slide into decadence), hatred poison plans to kill Rebecca 14, Buddhist shame at homicidal thoughts: extensive, Catholic guilt (even though not Catholic): growing." Life at workplace becomes hell with obnoxious-boss Richard Finch becoming even more so. By this time there's also a 8-foot hole in her living room and the builder who's made that hole is nowhere in sight.

Clearly, Bridget needs a break. Shaz and she pack their bags for Thailand, and there after magic mushrooms and diarrhoea she has a terrifying adventure: "11 a.m. Police custody, Bangkok. Calm. Calm. Calm. Calm." She emerges from the ordeal sorrier but slimmer: "8st (hope), alcohol units 6 (hurrah!), cigarettes 0, calories 8,755 (hurrah!), no. of times checked bag to make sure no drugs in same 24."

Things right out finally, with candies and comeuppances fairly distributed. Bridget reports satisfaction: "Am I a re-tread?" I said sleepily as he leaned over to blow out the candle. "A retard? No, darling," he said, patting my bottom reassuringly. "A little strange, perhaps, but not a retard."

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