5th - 21st October 2018

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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Helen Fielding at the Royal Exchange

A picture of author Helen Fielding reading at the 2013 festivalJon Parker Lee

  • A picture of author Helen Fielding reading at the 2013 festival

We are gathered in anticipation at the Royal Exchange Theatre to hear Helen Fielding discuss her new novel, Mad About the Boy with journalist and broadcaster Miranda Sawyer. But Fielding barely has a chance to settle into her brown leather armchair before facing the question that has been so hotly debated in the press over the past few weeks: “Why did you kill him?!”

Sawyer's bluntness makes the theatre roar with laughter. In cafes, libraries and bookshops far and wide, everyone is talking about Fielding's decision to kill off the loveable, decent English gentleman (and husband of Bridget Jones) Mark Darcy. I confess that I have been one of the mourners, and my first reaction was denial. I hoped that it was untrue, a publicity stunt perhaps. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Fielding speaks of her surprise at just how much people care for Mark Darcy. She couldn't fathom that Darcy's death would be front page news alongside the Syrian crisis. An audience member later asks if there is any possibility of a resurrection for Darcy. It appears that Fielding has not completely ruled this option out, but indeed it would be quite difficult without switching genres and going a bit sci-fi.

For me, it is no surprise that people care so much for Bridget and Mark. Fielding has created characters that people really connect with. Those who haven't even read Bridget Jones have an idea about who she is and what she represents; the phrase 'having a Bridget moment' says it all. She is ingrained in the British psyche. However, with popularity comes pressure and expectation, and Bridget has come under fire for not representing the feminist ideal. Fielding emphasises that ultimately, Bridget is just a fictional character, and not the Minister for Women – as hilarious as that thought may be.

I find it particularly interesting to hear about Fielding's approach to writing. She describes the plethora of distractions that now exist, such as shopping for shoes online. She actually mentions shoes quite a few times during her talk, and she of course is wearing a rather fabulous pair of red stilettos. Fielding is very likeable and keeps the audience chuckling throughout. She is clearly a very intelligent and skilled woman, but she is extremely modest and creates humour through light hearted self deprecation. At one point she says rather profoundly, 'creativity is like water, it may get blocked but it still finds a way' – she then stops and wonders if she's gone a bit too deep.

After a delightful hour of conversation with Helen Fielding, I feel that I can now come to terms with the loss of Mr Darcy, perhaps it served as group therapy for us all. I dash off eager to read my newly purchased copy of the book.