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February's Novel Pairing

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Pétale de Rose

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It’s time to wriggle into your big pants (real or metaphorical) for a Valentine’s date with Bridget Jones! Helping Damian choose our #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles.

February brings romance – a high-stakes month for Bridget and her tribe. It’s twenty years since hapless, heroic Bridge first dreamed of a mini-break but her diary is a fresh, funny and confiding as ever. She doesn’t look a day older over 28. Honest.

The first book — there are now four — grew out of Helen Fielding’s hilarious column in the Independent. It’s considered the bible of what’s called ‘chick lit’: books by women, about women, for women. Of course, there are male characters and male readers—Simon and James loved it too. “Chick lit is such a derisory, patronising term,” says Simon. “It’s not one we use in our shops and we don’t get people asking for it.”

Dickens published in weekly instalments which accounts for the endless action and cliff-hangers. Ditto Bridget’s diary. The other classic inspiration, in tone if not form, is Jane Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” And, of course, she gets her own Mr Darcy.

Then there are the movies. “It’s impossible not to see Renee Zellweger when you read the books,” says Simon. “Or Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, which is no bad thing. They’re nostalgic now but somehow not dated.”

You can enjoy the excitement of dialling 1471 again for the first time and wrestling with email anew but these are passing pleasures. Bridget’s story remains that of every woman and man. “I think we’re all scared we won’t find ‘the one’,” confides James from Corney & Barrow. “And a lot of men have more in common with Bridge than they might acknowledge. The book is surprisingly sad.”

Bridget’s diary is a balance of fears and fantasies. Often on the same page: “As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.”

Bridget has parents, memorably, but her real family are her friends: Tom, Shazzer and Jude: “Tom has a theory that homosexuals and single women in their thirties have natural bonding: both being accustomed to disappointing their parents and being treated as freaks by society.” Together they deal with sharkish colleagues, horrid bosses and disastrous dates.

Bridget’s daily tally of calories, cigarettes and alcohol units goes up and down with her mood. “She drinks vodka, champagne and lots of chardonnay,” says James. “Now she’s older and a bit wiser and richer I want to spoil her.”

We start with Prosecco. “This is definitely what she’d drink if she was running around town now,” says Simon, eyeing the surprisingly small bubbles. We now drink more prosecco than champagne and there’s even a shortage, certainly of good stuff. “This is from a 16th century vineyard,” says James. “And it’s a lot gentler.”

Bridget rarely drinks red wine but perhaps her palate has grown up. Or not. “Either way, she’d love this Malbec,” says James. “It’s one of the biggest reds there is but it’s actually very refined.” It definitely smells like a 15% bottle and we reel a little before sitting back surprised by the smoothness. James is pleased: “And it’s made by a bunch of friends.”

James’s final suggestion is at once obvious and devilishly clever: rose. “It’s so often dismissed a silly, pink and sweet but it can be a very complex dignified wine,” he says. Simon nods unconvinced. Petale de rose is paler than your average bottle of the pink stuff. Says James: “It’s Grenache based so it’s a bit peppery but it’s very savoury rather than sweet and more grown up than it looks.” He’s right. It’s fun but not frivolous.

Prosecco would fuel a young Bridget pinging about town now and perhaps the Malbec would soothe Bridget the divorced mother of today, although I think she’d be anxious about staining her teeth. But the petale de rose has to be our ‘NovelPairing – it’s the sort of wine Bridget would sip on a minibreak to the South of France, looking up at the sun and smiling secretly to herself. Made it!

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