I'm on my annual extended-family vacation this week and the Australian summer vacation period is a big time for relaxing with a book (or ten). So I've opted to publish a review of the third Bridget Jones instalment that I wrote on my personal blog in October. It was written for a non-widow audience, so is preaching to the converted in parts.
Spoiler alert if you haven't read the new Bridget Jones' Diary yet (and want to).
Having seen the spoilers, out of curiosity I read the new Bridget Jones' Diary instalment.
My curiosity was how would someone who may not know the widow experience*, write about the widow experience? Honestly, pretty well, taking into account it is Bridget Jones we're talking about, and she is 5 years into the journey & I'm 18 months. At least in part, her experience is familiar to me. Particularly being left on your own to raise young children.
The widowhood experience is something that is very, very difficult to comprehend until you've been there. I had no concept before it happened, and the reviews I've read seem to support that; I don't feel there is a widow amongst the critics I've read. So the book is generally being panned.
Firstly, it was never going to be a contender for the Man Booker - it's chick-lit people. Take it as such.
One comment that crops up is she's again a singleton/cougar, therefore reverting to type.
Firstly, she's still Bridget. And the singleton/dating scenario is the premise of her character - it's what the first two books were about, why wouldn't the third?
And I hate to break the 'happy happy joy joy' view that spouses don't up and die on you until you've reached a ripe old age, but we widows are out there. In large numbers. You'll be surprised how many younger widows (and widowers) there are from accidents, suicide, cancer and other medical conditions and illnesses. And some do want to re-partner down the track, so the fact Bridget's looking (and frankly, only starts at the 5 year mark, with the pressure of her friends - without that she may not have), is also a reality. This doesn't even cover those divorcees who also find themselves single again in their 30's, 40's and 50's (one reviewer seemed to have the opinion that there are no single people at all in these decades of life - no matter how it happens, hence this comment).
Another critique is that she's still a social klutz. Again, she's still Bridget. Mark's influence may well have reduced some of those tendencies through her marriage, but the stress and trauma of widowhood may well have brought them out in force again. Widowhood does change your world view and may change your personality in part, but it's not necessarily a complete personality transplant, which one critic I read seemed to expect. In fact, that she was a social klutz to start with, it's not surprising she remains one. "Widow brain" (that I've heard a lot of long-timers talk about still experiencing, and may be a PTSD manifestation), is likely to amplify rather than dull this trait of Bridget's. The descriptor of 'foundering' by another character actually describes the experience pretty well; floundering is also apt.
Some raise a timing issue of Bridget being 51, with her youngest child a 5 year old. This rankled with me initially too, but on reflection, we don't know if both kids were the result of a long effort of assisted reproduction (ART), or even egg donor. It's possible for the 5 year old to be from a Frozen Embryo Transfer. And it's her contemporaneous diary, there's no real reason for her to mention it (except for back-story, and Fielding chose not to cover it in back story). That it's automatically assumed that both are natural pregnancies also shouts to the lack of familiarity in the broader world with the infertility experience. Heck, I did it and I HAVE the IF experience!
Some may argue that Bridget talks about Mark's death, why not any (potential) ART? Having also been through both, you tend to focus on and re-visit the loss of your husband, not what it took to have your child(ren). And the loss of a spouse is something that hums away in the background and then intensifies to crippling clarity at the drop of a hat. It's something I've learned to expect to be life-long.
Early in the book it's mentioned that Mark left her a wealthy woman - this is another of the criticisms; that she's rich so it's not reality. First, they were wealthy to start with, and rich people die, too. Plus he had made sure everything was in place, just in case - as is stated in the book.
Although really just a passing comment, this is the biggest lesson I see to the general readership of the book. Mark had made sure that his family would be secure. Ian and I had not gotten around to getting things in place even though we'd planned to, but our superannuation system meant I've at least been left with a secure roof over John and I's head. I've encountered a number of widows both on and off line that are not so secure. There was no insurance, or no ability to get insurance, or limited superannuation. They have no choice but to work, and/or they loose their homes when they're still in the depths of grief. Making sure both partners are adequately insured to keep the family secure is a great lesson from the book.
The upshot is there were moments that cut close to the bone, but it was an overall enjoyable, easy chick-lit read giving an insight into the widow experience through the lens of Bridget Jones.
*in checking, no Helen Fielding has not experienced widowhood. In my opinion, she's obviously done some good research in writing this book.