MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
The first time we met Bridget Jones was in print back in 1996. Three years later came a sequel, then a pair of movies starring Renee Zellweger. In all of them, Bridget winds up with Mark Darcy, the perfect leading man. Well, a new "Bridget Jones" book is out and - spoiler alert - as it opens, it looks as though our heroine's luck has run out. In case you haven't heard, Darcy is dead, and fans are outraged. Here's Meg Wolitzer with a review.
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: For me, it's not about Darcy. I can tolerate living in a world without him, since he was killed by a land mine in Darfur. What's harder to swallow is that Bridget Jones has lost a lot of her charm. In the first two books, Bridget gave us the details of her drinking and snogging and shagging. She kept track of how many cigarettes she smoked and units of alcohol she consumed. She was messy and adorable and very funny. 51-year-old Bridget also keeps lists like the number of mass emails from class parents and minutes late for school pickups.
I think I get what Fielding is trying to do here. The more obvious choice would've been to write Volume Three: Life with Darcy. There would've been material there: mom and dad constantly getting interrupted by their kids just when things are gearing up romantically. But Fielding resisted that, which I think is admirable. This marvelous character was her invention and she can do with her what she wants. So she makes Bridget this 50-ish widow, having a torrid affair with a young guy - what the British call a toy boy - who she calls by his Twitter handle, Roxster. The message is just because you're in your 50s doesn't mean you have to sink into the sludge of midlife and wear mom jeans.
But what people loved about the first, and even about the second, book was Bridget. And it turns out that even the most beloved characters can wear out their welcome if there's nothing funny left to say about them. The character needs to be preserved somehow. And weirdly, that didn't happen this time. It almost feels like a fan fiction version of Bridget Jones.
There are some moments of classic Bridget, like when she goes to the gym and finds everyone contorted ludicrously in machines like Hieronymus Bosch painting. And some of the melancholy reflections on the dead Mark Darcy are affecting. But still, they remind me that if you're going to kill off the fantastic love interest in your wildly appealing novels, you have to be prepared for what you're left with.
CORNISH: The book is "Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy" by Helen Fielding. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer. Her latest book is "The Interestings."