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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own