It's business as usual in Bridget Jones land

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Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (Picador, £12.99)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (Picador, £12.99)

SOME PEOPLE think it a good thing to criticise a novel for what it's not. It's not great literature, for example, or it's not a truly academic work, or it's not as searing/haunting/stringent as this or that - and its heroine is not a good example of how a modern, independent woman should be.

All of which is absolutely true of Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason (follow-up to Bridget Jones's Diary, international best-seller, public icon and spawner of backlash), and all of which is utterly beside the point. Bridget Jones is what it/she is: funny.

I find Bridget, as well as funny, simultaneously reassuring and a pain.

She's a pain because I (along with 90 per cent of women in this country - yes, I do mean you, and nothing Camille Paglia can say will change my view on this) have had those telephone/chardonnay/boyfriend moments, and I don't care to be reminded of them or of myself at the time.

She's reassuring because even though she hasn't grown up, I have. I can look back and laugh, like a drain, and hollowly.

And that is what Bridget Jones is for. She's for laughing kind of at and kind of with. She's no role model - she never was. She's a scapegoat, a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-all-of-us-except-of-course-Julie-Burchill-who-is-much-too-grand.

Our story takes up with Bridget listing her blessings: "9st 3 (total fat groove), boyfriends 1 (hurrah!), shags 3 (hurrah!), calories 2,100, calories used up by shags 600, so total calories 1,500 (exemplary)." So from the beginning we know that it's business as usual in Bridget-land.

Bridget has a job in television, a flat of her own, a lovely human rights lawyer boyfriend who owns a huge house in Holland Park, some corking girlfriends, lots of Voyage cardigans and lovely little slippy dresses from Agnÿs B, breakfast and dinner in groovy Notting Hill hangouts, weekends in the country, holidays in exotic Far East locations. Sounds all right, doesn't it?

Unfortunately for her (though not for Helen Fielding, or really for the reader) Bridget still hasn't cottoned on to the simple truth that, no matter what your blessings, the key to a modern girl's happiness is not to care how much she weighs. Without knowing this, she will never be happy. But if she were happy, would she amuse us? I suspect not, vultures that we are. What's good for Bridget the Best-Seller is sad for Bridget the Girl.

No matter what happens to Bridget, she doesn't learn.

She lets her girlfriends make her chuck the lovely boyfriend; she carries someone else's bag through customs in Thailand; she gives a builder £3,500 in cash - but none of this matters because plot is irrelevant in these books. Even more so than in most novels, if anyone behaved in even a slightly realistic or reasonable manner there would be no story.

Bridget and her true love both manage to think that the other has chucked them, and don't bother to check. They are sent wheeling to and fro by classic devices such as a mislaid love note, overhearing a chat behind a hedge, and the heroine's being forced by circumstance to stay in the love object's home.

The role of the usual 19th-century storm-induced influenza is played here by one of the most unconvincing death-threats - no, the most unconvincing death threat - I've ever read. And also, of course, one of the funniest. No, the funniest. A bullet arrives in the post with her name engraved on it. She thinks it's a promotional lipstick. Attagirl!

In an attempt to win the happiness that will render her either fictionally obsolete or, at least, much more difficult to write about amusingly, Bridget has been reading self-help books. Fielding has a field day with them; Bridget, of course, learns nothing.

Still, at the end of this book there is a shaft of light. For a moment, she seems to be going to treat her young man as a human being. It's curiously heartwarming. I don't feel that Bridget is letting the sisterhood down by wanting to love and be loved on a day-to-day basis, and I would like her to be happy, because she's a nice girl.

She may not prove to be quite so funny any more, but I bet she has other fascinating qualities waiting to emerge in her maturity. Funniness is not everything. Whoops. It's that "not" word again.

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