Jontahan Cape, £18.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Book review: Mad About the Boy, By Helen Fielding

The kids are the real stars in this almost merry widow's progress through mid-life romance

Before I began to read Mad About the Boy, this likeable third instalment of Bridget Jones's diary, I decided that our valiant heroine, happily ensconced with husband and children, should be working as a counsellor for Relate.

I saw her living vicariously through other people's scrapes and catastrophes, from a place of grown-up contentment, sending out beams of strong sympathy and pony-club vim, with head inclined and knowing smiles. I even imagined her patients confessing that it was easier telling the children they were divorcing than it was telling her.

In this way, I thought, Helen Fielding would still be able to champion her heroine's schoolgirlish charm, and inclination for/attachment to catastrophe, without suggesting that her development was woefully stunted, or A Bridget Too Far. But not a bit of it. In order not to make her heroine's behaviour look sad in the modern sense of "not to be envied in the least", Fielding has made Bridget genuinely sad.

She is widowed with two small children, her happy ending smashed by the shocking death of Mark Darcy, five years before the book begins. On occasion Fielding almost puts a toe in Anita Brookner territory, with Jones brave and self-disciplined in navy silk, eating grated cheese - if Brookner lived in North London chaos , that is, and was addicted to her smartphone. Jones describes her modus operandi as that of "A drowning person, only more optimistic". Her work is an adaptation of "Chekhov's Hedda Gabbler" relocated to a dank Queen's Park terrace. Of course.

Into this vulnerable-hearted and slightly over-grown teenage world comes "Roxster" McDuff, a charming man 21 years her junior, met – how else? - through Twitter. The advances of communications technology since the mid-Nineties were made for Bridget's more obsessive side. This relationship contains plenty of cheer and pleasure. Still, when in a tender moment Roxster declares, "I wish I had a time machine", Bridget senses it may be time to worry.

Despite the slightly fraught setting there are laughs to be had. Bridget, polite as ever, in the middle of sex, replying to her younger lover: "Well, 'You make ME hard." There is deft school-gates satire and Fielding is very good on the 312 emails parents send out in the run-up to an impromptu picnic: "I'll bring sliced carrots, and radishes. Could someone else do red and yellow peppers?" That comma after carrots says it all.

There are some very successful minor characters, both original and knowingly drawn, such as the high-powered mother Nicolette (or Nicorette) who describes her children as just about the most exciting products she has ever developed. Bridget also has a grand neighbour living in deluxe Primrose Hill squalor, her garden "a hidden world of brick pathways, long field-like grass, a life-sized cow with a crown on its head, a laminated motel sign saying 'Vacancy' and chandeliers in the trees."

There is an awkward tension in this book between the parts that seem very knowing and the parts that don't. Widowhood has kept her out of step with her friends' lives, naturally, but at one point Bridget decrees that one must not text while drunk as though it is a brave new thought. She also wishes she had a Middleton-style fascinator. In 2013! Her calorie counting also sits very uncomfortably on the page now it's lost its innocence, and I did wish Bridget hadn't lost her heart to a man who coos things like "After I've finished with you". But for every cup there is a saucer, I suppose.

The real stars of Mad About the Boy are Bridget's children. The way, both Mum and Dad to them, she handles their headlice and their small-hours vomit and grief is heroic. The best scene is when she reassures them late at night with words that remind her of Mark: "All the thoughts are going away. Just like the little birds in their nests, and the rabbits in the rabbit holes. The thoughts don't need Billy and Mabel tonight. The world will turn without them. The moon will shine without them. And all Billy and Mabel need to do is rest and sleep."

Susie Boyt's new novel is 'The Small Hours' (Virago)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable