Despite possessing an Internet connection, I’m pretty out of touch with what’s new and happening. I was shocked beyond all measure when I saw, whilst passing through some airport or another in the last month (I think Vancouver?), that a new Bridget Jones novel had hit the bookstores.

I had some Airport Appreciation Time to waste so I flipped it open, reading slackjawed and fighting the urge to sit there and devour the entire book before my flight (I’m more than capable of reading that fast, it’s an expensive habit). Bridget Jones, on the cover, LBD in place with…kids toys strewn about? What on earth?

I came to my senses after a few pages and slammed the book shut, and ordered a copy on Amazon before catching my flight. I had free wifi so the airport must have been Vancouver, it never works in Seattle though I remember having it in Guadalajara but that was too long ago…anyway, back to Bridget.

I’ve always been a Bridget Jones fan. LOVED the books. Laughed my ass off at the first movie. I did enjoy the movie, but to me there was always a huge difference between the Bridget of the books and the Bridget portrayed by Renee Zellweger: the Bridget of the books is only hopeless in her own mind.

In the movie, Bridget is a little fat and dumpy. Zellweger had to gain some very unattractive weight to play the role. In the books, Bridget is obsessed with her weight, but she’s not fat in the slightest. How do I know? Because we get a play-by-play of Bridget’s body weight in every chapter, and sometimes several times in a chapter. That body weight is never terribly high. Hell, “fat Bridget” weighs about what I weigh most of the time. When, in the original novel, she loses ten pounds (which really is quite a bit when we’re talking about a 140 pound person), her friends are appalled and say she looks too thin. We may want to note that this is the ONLY time in the entire series, until this new installment, that Bridget’s friends comment on her weight, and it’s to tell her that she looked fine before she lost ten pounds. This did not happen in the movie, because had Zellweger lost a few pounds, she would have looked better – she was styled to look “dumpy” for some ungodly stupid Hollywood reason.

Watching a movie, we can’t avoid the filmmaker’s take on Bridget’s looks; that person’s vision is in our faces, front and center. In the books, we’re free to interpret what we read a little more carefully, and to pay attention to the language used to describe her. In the books, Bridget is not only portrayed subtly as attractive (a “dusky beauty”), but she isn’t a disaster professionally either. Sure, in Bridget’s mind, she’s totally out of control all the time, and embarrassing and career-compromising things happen to her with some regularity. This Hollywood also went all literal on, portraying Bridget as a complete moron and hapless fool. But really – how many times has something happened to each of us that we consider mortifying beyond belief, only to find that most people around us didn’t give it a second thought? We’re all way harder on ourselves than anyone else, and most of the time we can take comfort in knowing that our alleged humiliation was, as Bridget might airily dismiss, “just a blip.”

Every Bridget Jones book contains a scene in which one of Bridget’s acquaintances or love interests shocks her with a confession of their belief that Bridget is beautiful, thin, desirable, attractive and, in Mad About the Boy, “perfect.” Despite knowing how Bridget herself feels about her frequent messes, apparently to others she appears faultless. We’re privvy to Bridget’s inner thoughts, not her outer persona. Despite the situations that, without which Bridget wouldn’t be Bridget, she’s not a dumpy, unfortunate mess. She’s an everywoman.

Why this difference between the movies and the books? I’ve no idea. Is Hollywood really so vacuous and ham-handed that no one could translate the underlying message of Bridget Jones and her personal insecurities were taken literally, with some director thinking “hey, she thinks she’s fat, she must be fat?” Most likely, some clueless male producer interpreted Bridget’s reported 140lb body weight as being “fat,” because some dudes really cannot handle the reality of how much women weigh. I don’t know where men get the idea that all women are somewhere between 110 and 120 pounds and any more than that means “fat.” Bridget is funny, certainly, but funny because we relate to her, and we’re all her sometimes because of what goes on in our heads, not because we made a running joke out of getting an actress to gain a bunch of weight to look purposefully saggy. I’ll never understand why Fielding agreed to that portrayal of Bridget; I’ll never be convinced that she truly meant to write an overweight heroine (until now, when she goes out of her way to make sure that we know what Bridget really looks like at a given time, because this time it’s an important plot point).

Though Mad About the Boy is probably the least humorous Bridget Jones book yet, its darker tone resonated with me. It took a few chapters of reading in confusion to realize that this incarnation of Bridget is fifty-one years old. She’s got bigger things to worry about; a veritable Moby Dick to fry now, her life having took a turn I’d never have expected. The characters we know and love are aging, dying, changing in the blink of an eye. When last we saw the Smug Marrieds, they were chiding Bridget for not having kids by her early-thirties. Now, they are about ready to retire, and are facing the health and personal crises that await us all in middle age and beyond.

I still shook my head in frustration with Bridget and her propensity for making things harder than they need to be. But THIS Bridget knows she’s doing it. THIS Bridget has some good reasons for struggling, and THIS Bridget doesn’t have a choice. She’s better off than most of us would be in that situation. This Bridget has a new maturity that, yes, you have to look closely for throughout the text:

“Almost burst out, ‘What? Was Talitha sleeping with Daniel when I was sleeping with Daniel?’ But then I thought, ‘What’s the point?’… thinking, really, after a certain age, people are just going to do what they’re going to do, and you’re either going to accept them as they are or you’re not.”

Of course the book is zany and in many parts silly. Fielding is a humorist and the Bridget Jones character a sort of comic. Fielding makes common insecurities so overblown that one might read them feeling wry familiarity, Bridget’s antics a distorted mirror of our own behavior brought to its logical conclusion should we not possess the gift of self-awareness, which keeps most of our neuroses in check. We’re free to laugh at them here, probably mostly in relief.

Though another character finds her dismayingly “perfect,” the book itself is far from perfect, with some odd cameos from past characters shoehorned into the mix which didn’t seem necessary, a few too many mentions of Internet-socializing fads, not enough of Bridget’s tried-and-true girlfriends (including Tom of course) and an ending a little too…well, just too for me. Having read as far as that and having been along on Bridget’s journey in the last twenty years of her life, would anyone believe in that ending for Bridget? Or is that just another stopover for our girl-turned-woman, a transitional state that, by her next appearance, might have run its course? The latter is what I believe. That, no matter what the appearance of an ending might suggest, Bridget still goes on, and so do we all.