As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, all things Bridget Jones and the chick lit backlist lead me down a winding path.
Bridget Jones’s Baby. Miramax. Sept. 2016. Coming on DVD/Blu-ray Jan. 2017.
Both a nostalgic return for all who recall the ice-cream colored covers of the first wave of chick lit and a modern take on life after 40, the third Bridget Jones movie, based on the books by British novelist Helen Fielding, holds appeal not only for fans of the author but for viewers who enjoy funny, warm, zany films about women finding their own way. Bridget (Renée Zellweger) is far more put together in this film than in the previous two (Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). Producing a hard-hitting TV news magazine, she’s feeling much better about herself. Then a coworker takes her to a music festival, which leads to a one-night stand with American entrepreneur dreamboat Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey). Later she meets lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at a christening, learns he is getting divorced, and sleeps with him, too—each time using ancient, battered, “dolphin safe” condoms. Predictably, things start to fall apart, and, as the title announces, either Jack or Mark is going to be a father. Note: Fielding’s novel Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries comes out on October 11.
Four Weddings and a Funeral. color. Mike Newell, Polygram Filmed Entertainment. 2011 (1994). Blu-ray UPC 883904232964. $14.99. ROMANTIC COMEDY
Consider this the lad lit equivalent of the Bridget Jones screen series. Written by Bridget scriptwriter Richard Curtis, Four Weddings and a Funeral is very much an “old home week” film, starring Hugh Grant, who also played Bridget’s ex-boyfriend Daniel Cleaver. Here, Grant takes on the role of awkward, affable Englishman Charles, who seems unable to find love. That is, until he meets glamorous American Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at a wedding reception. Carrie appears interested just long enough to hook Charles before it’s revealed that she’s about to be married. All seems lost as Charles goes to wedding after wedding (including Carrie’s) and his band of close friends endure a terrible loss. Then, much in the mold of Fielding’s stories, things start to look up. Other films written by Curtis that might serve as watch-alikes include Love Actually and Notting Hill.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding. color. Joel Zwick, HBO Studios. 2016 (2002). DVD UPC 883929538157. $5.99. ROMANTIC COMEDY
Viewers seeking hilarious and affirming fare may enjoy this delightful sleeper hit of a rom-com that offers a soft edge to the genre while providing plenty of laughs and the personal perspective of the Bridget Jones movies. Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos), limited in her role in the family’s Greek restaurant and seen as a failure as she has yet to get married and have children, is slowly fading away. Determined to break free and change her fate, she attends community college and begins to come out of her shell. Just in time, it seems, for the nice and charming Ian Miller (John Corbett) to take notice. There is only one problem, which sends Toula’s family into a tailspin: Ian is not Greek. The culture clash combined with Toula and Ian’s sweet romance should please Fielding fans who have long cheered for Bridget and Mark Darcy to have a smoother path. The sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, was released this year.
Sex and the City: The Complete Collection. color. Various, HBO Home Video. 2014 (1998–2004). DVD UPC 883929278565. $89.99. TV
Widely considered an American version of Fielding’s enterprise is this HBO series, based on the book by Candace Bushnell, about four singletons living in New York City. Fans of Fielding who are disposed to trade the zany laughter for a focused look at a high-octane search for love will find a sharper edge—and much more fashion—in the intertwined stories of friends Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) as they navigate careers, sex, and relationships with varying degrees of success. Throughout, Carrie has an on-again, off-again relationship with Mr. Big (Chris Noth), who, depending on one’s point of view, is either more like Darcy or Bridget’s cad of an ex-boyfriend Daniel Cleaver. The first Sex and the City film, released in 2008, extends the exploits and style to new heights. Suggest both the TV series and the films to anyone who appreciates the feel of the Bridget films as well as the characters’ camaraderie, long-simmering romance, and intimate, confessional aspects.
Fielding, Helen. Bridget Jones’s Diary. Penguin. 1999. 288p. ISBN 9780140280098. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101199541. F
Bridget Jones seems so ubiquitous, but as with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, there are plenty of new readers who have yet to be introduced. The first book in the series remains a core work in its genre and decades later continues to fuel the film franchise. Bridget come across softer and less acidic on the big screen than she does on the page. Her diary can be biting. Yet in both versions, the humor and intimacy shine through. The plot involves an irreverent thirtysomething who acknowledges that her slightly out-of-control life would be better if she could stick to a plan that includes losing weight, developing a sense of inner poise, and finding a boyfriend with marriage on his mind. Much of that seems largely off the table as she pens her journal with razor-sharp wit. What readers do get is plenty of friendship, mother issues, and a wealth of insight into Bridget’s experiences, told in an addictively madcap, generous, and candid style. Of course a boyfriend eventually comes along, the wonderfully Austenesque Mark Darcy.
Fielding, Helen. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Penguin. 2001. 352p. ISBN 9780140298475. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101221815. F
In the second series installment, Bridget is safe in the arms of Mr. Darcy, at least for the moment. Quickly learning that a steady boyfriend is not as convenient or steadfast as one might think, Bridget once again tries to navigate the complexities of modern relationships and her own self-doubts. Per usual, much of her life is in shambles, and Bridget records it all in self-aware and bitingly entertaining diary entries. Most concerning is Mark’s oddly cold indifference at times as there seems to be another woman in the picture. Also, Bridget’s mother is out of sorts, work is work, and Bridget’s apartment is undergoing renovation. Thankfully, our protagonist powers through with the help of her friends, who are a saving grace. Expect the same mix of bright commentary and laugh-out-loud reading.
Fielding, Helen. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. Vintage. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9780345806345. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350877. F
The Edge of Reason landed in readers’ hands two years after Diary, but this third offering took over a decade to appear. Much has changed (and as a spoiler alert to the movie, this volume’s plot comes well after that of the film). Bridget, age 51, is raising the two children she had with Mark Darcy, who died five years prior to the story’s start. Her world now includes Twitter (which fits in well with a diary), and through the use of social media, she slowly reenters the dating scene. Fielding explores those various encounters but mostly tells of Bridget as a mother (a very competent one) and someone navigating her way through grief. Meanwhile, friends and foibles, jokes and obsessions get inventoried, as the events of Bridget’s life roll on.
Barker, Raffaella. Hens Dancing. Anchor. 2002. 288p. ISBN 9780385721820. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781408851616. F
Also told via a diary is Barker’s story of Venetia Summers and her three children, Giles, Felix, and a baby girl known only as The Beauty. With its blend of humor, romance, and delightful “life-in-shambles” narrative, this novel should charm Bridget fans. When we first meet Venetia, she is married, but then her husband leaves and she and her three offspring are left in a large country house in rural England. Venetia, à la Bridget, has plans to make the house and garden into a grand base for idyllic childhood romps. Instead, both the building and grounds are in need of serious care. In the end, Venetia meets dishy carpenter David Lanyon, who appreciates her and her brood just the way they are. Barker’s adroit tale of quirky fun is a bit more winsome than either the Bridget books or films yet provides readers with a very chummy ramble.
Owens, Lisa. Not Working. Dial. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9780812988819. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812988826. F
If Bridget Jones had been born in the late 1990s, she might have undergone many of the same calamities as Claire Flannery. A twentysomething millennial living in London with her boyfriend Luke, she is becoming a bit unraveled. In order to find out what she really wants to do, Claire quits her job to dedicate herself fully to that pursuit. Unfortunately, she is less interested in the quest than she thought she might be. Then there is the extended and dark rift with her mother, the out-of-control drinking episodes, and tensions with Luke (who, in the vein of Mark Darcy, is far more put together than his significant other). Like Fielding’s novels, Owens’s story is told through intimate vignettes in which Claire observes and comments upon the happenings of her world. Amusing, sharp-eyed, and realistic (in the privileged problem kind of way), Owens’s tale presents a contemporary nod to the classics of chick lit.
Swan, Karen. Christmas at Tiffany’s. Morrow. 2014. 592p. ISBN 9780062364104. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062364111. F
This effervescent tale delivers Fielding fans a vivid story of abiding friendship and enduring love. Cassie celebrates her tenth wedding anniversary and looks forward to the reunion of her three dearest friends arriving in Scotland for the big party: Kelly from New York City, Anouk from Paris, and Suzy from London. All are present when Cassie discovers that her husband has a child and mistress, enfolding her in a protective embrace and offering a plan of escape that includes spending a third of the year with each of them. In New York City, her first sojourn, Cassie stumbles upon Suzy’s brother, who gives her a list of adventures to help her experience each city fully. Cassie doesn’t know it yet, but the list also holds a clue to her future. Swan provides lavish details of each locale, well-developed secondary characters, and plenty of angst and romance.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 11 CDs. 13:03 hrs. Naxos. 2005. ISBN 9789626343562. $44. F
Austen’s most famous novel served as inspiration for Fielding and makes for an enchanting listening experience. Austen’s keen insights and characterizations are lovely on audio, especially as narrated by the talented Emilia Fox, who excels at crafting characters from deft shifts in tone and brilliantly voices the sharp exchanges between Elizabeth Bennet and Mark Darcy, articulating the tension between them as well as their disagreements, disapproval, and initial dislike. Fox further creates an appealing sensibility as the two combatants finally reach a point of accord.
Moulin, Jules. Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes. 7 CDs. 8:12 hrs. Books on Tape. 2015. ISBN 9781101926796. $35. F
The charm found in more contemporary versions of Fielding’s universal tale is reflected in Moulin’s vibrant debut novel with many of the same motifs—romance, conflict between mothers and daughters, uncertainty, and finding one’s way. Here, those captivating elements result in the character of Ally Hughes, single mother to ten-year-old Lizzie, who has a summer fling with the deeply appealing, if younger, Jake Bean. Years later, the grown-up Lizzie brings Jake, now a movie star, home for dinner. Narrator Ann Marie Lee reads with an ease that matches the novel’s glistening tone.