Bridget Jones: If you need characters in books to be your friends, you’re not reading right

Saturday 1 June: Alcohol units 4 (so far), cigarettes 0, calories 1,683 (oops!!), references to “women readers” off the scale

Share

Bridget Jones is back.

The third novel about the singleton and her escapades in Spanx and pinot will be titled Mad About the Boy and will be out in October. Cue a lot of v v annoying chat about what Jones means to “female readers”. What she means to male readers doesn’t come up. It is assumed that they’ll have nothing to say about Bridget in the way it is assumed female readers will have plenty. Indeed, male readers rarely get a look-in. They’re often just called “readers” and allowed to get on with reading books while women readers are observed, their literary diet endlessly picked over, as if they were exotic creatures. 

Bridget’s return comes in a week in which women’s reading habits are under scrutiny once again. Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs, an angry and brilliant novel about a furiously disillusioned teacher called Nora, got angry herself when a female journalist asked her: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you?” “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?” Messud exploded. “Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.” Fay Weldon then disagreed, arguing on Today that “women like friends and they want friends” and so read “for comfort”.

I don’t really know where to start with this, so here’s a list: Medea, Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Agrippina, Emma Bovary, the Marquise de Merteuil, Lisbeth Salander... You wouldn’t describe any of them as likeable, or want to add them as Facebook friends, but they are among the greatest characters ever to live on the page. Not nasty but simply annoying heroines can be enjoyable, too. I couldn’t bear Natasha in War and Peace but I’d hesitate to write off Tolstoy’s masterwork because I can’t imagine sharing a bottle of Rose with her. In the same way, I didn’t finish L’Etranger or Crime and Punishment and find myself wondering, Bridget-style, if Meursault or Raskolnikov might be fun on a date.

Given that 67 per cent of books sold in the UK are bought by women, it is understandable why publishers pander to what they think women want – girly covers and friendly heroines like Bridget. But they are wrong to think unlikeable women don’t sell. Look at Gone Girl – a repugnant female lead, an ugly black cover, a woman writer. And two million copies sold worldwide.

* At the risk of encouraging the Rolling Stones to keep touring for another 200 years, I worry that this might go down in music history as the decade of the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Drought.  Take Muse, one of the biggest live bands in the country. After setting light to the Emirates Stadium this week with their proggy hysteria and pyrotechnics, they held an after-party themed, apparently, on ironic debauchery. There were violinists playing rock anthems and dwarves handing round trays of lemon sherbet cut to look like lines of cocaine. It’s hardly Keith snorting his father’s ashes, or Ozzy biting the head off a bat.

Now the Arts Council plans to give a leg-up to aspiring Arctic Monkeys with a new £500,000 fund dedicated to indie and cutting-edge dance musicians. Applicants are required to submit a “clear business case”, prove their social networking skills and undergo a rigorous selection process. The successful few will be given grants of £5000 to £15,000 that can be used on anything to help them develop creatively (break out the lemon sherbet!) and become “commercially viable”. An evaluation report and a balanced budget must be provided in due course. And after a few years’ hard graft, they might even get a carriage clock.

I’m all for talent getting a helping hand, particularly one that doesn’t come with televised humiliation and Simon Cowell attached, but this sounds worryingly like the professionalization of the rockstar. Wheatgrass smoothies not groupies, business not excess. Whether good music can come out of balance sheets and sherbet – well, that remains to be heard.

Twitter: @alicevjones

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power