Caffeine units drunk 23, chocolate biscuits consumed 5¾, number of minutes set aside to write book review 360, number of minutes spent writing review 0, minutes spent checking emails, phone texts, news headlines, YouTube clips, weather forecast, eBay listings, holiday options 359, cigarettes smoked 0, alcohol units drunk 0 (but don't tempt me…)
Gaah! In quandary. What to make of Mad About The Boy, the lavishly-hyped third volume of Bridget Jones's eccentric, self-castigating diaries? Since last we peeked into her journal on December 18, 1999, our love-hungry heroine has revelled briefly in smug-married bliss with dashing human rights lawyer Mark Darcy, only to find herself unattached again, this time as a widowed mother of two. And despite the generous support blanket of her late husband's estate, she is buckling under the strain of single parenthood until her friends drag her, grumbling and squealing, back into the dating game.
Everything has changed, however, since Bridget's hopeless love life first became public property - initially through a newspaper column in the Independent in 1995, then a book published the following year. Instead of compulsively monitoring her answering machine, she is now chronically fixated with its contemporary equivalents (texts from toyboy 0, Twitter followers 0, etc). Then there's her age (51) and the problem of childcare should an actual date hove into view.
Step forward Daniel Cleaver, Bridget's amiably roguish one-time lover and now a serviceable, if anarchic, babysitter. Which brings us to the most significant change in the 14 years since volume two (The Edge Of Reason) was published. Following the phenomenal success of the 2001 and 2004 movies, Bridget Jones has gone from literary to cinematic sensation, which means even if it remains (just) possible to visualise the hapless diarist herself without conjuring up Renee Zellweger's self-consciously kooky portrayal, I challenge anyone to read Daniel's lines ("Now Jones, those are very, very naughty boots"; "I suppose a f*** would be out of the question?") and not hear Hugh Grant.
Author Helen Fielding co-wrote both film scripts and this novel appears to have been crafted with another movie in mind. The lust-interest PE teacher ("fit, tall, crop-haired … rather like Daniel Craig") seems already to have been cast, and at times you can almost see the stage directions - most obviously at the party where Bridget's boyfriend, Roxby, suddenly morphs into a drunken, finger-pointing reincarnation of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Ah, Roxby. Just 29, with peachy skin and a "ripped torso" (whatever that is), he is the answer to this born-again virgin's prayers. After a shaky start struggling with the new rules of dating (do not text when drunk; do not use words of pop songs to guide behaviour, especially when drunk), Bridget has met her dream man - except for the 21-year age gap, which underlines her morbid insecurity about her cougar-esque decrepitude.
Fielding is a smashing writer and in many ways Bridget Jones is an engaging creation: a pratfall-prone Everyneurotic whose zealous predilection for self-improvement is matched only by her talent for procrastination. When she should be using her exercise bike or finishing her improbable screenplay (a reinterpretation of Hedda Gabler) Bridget can be found gobbling her children's leftovers, studying self-help manuals and writing endless to-do lists ("I WILL: lose 30lb … do regular Life Laundry … Go on email for one hour only instead of spending entire day in helpless cyber-circle of email, news stories, shopping and holiday websites whilst texting, then not answering any of emails anyway").
Less appealing is the character's status as a kind of poster girl for single women - not in a positive way but rather exuding the message that unattached = sad, lonely and a bit pathetic. Supposedly, Bridget Jones's Diary was conceived as a contemporary take on Pride And Prejudice, whose universally acknowledged subtext was the importance of matrimony to the female gender. But that was 200 years ago, for goodness sake, and Bridget is 51. Couldn't Fielding have found something else for her to do besides obsessing about "dating rules" like a lovelorn adolescent?
Gaah! Come to think of it, why does Bridget talk like that? Is it because she's quite posh - a fact that wasn't apparent during her bedsitland years, but which the trappings of affluent parenthood make clear?
True, most of her parental woes (headlice infestations and the like) are classless, and there are plenty of funny lines (how to be a good parent: "Behave as badly as possible so the children will rebel against you and turn out like Saffron in Absolutely Fabulous").
On the whole, though, Mad About The Boy lacks the sparkle of the first book, and despite copious up-to-the-minute cultural references (Fifty Shades Of Grey, Downton Abbey, the long hot summer of 2013), some of the social commentary is bit tired and Bridget's yummy mummy London angst feels peculiarly detached from an austerity Britain in which her fiftysomething contemporaries face the prospect of toiling into their dotage, arthritic hips and all.