Before "Bridget Jones's Diary" made it to American bookstores, the heroine of Helen Fielding's first novel was a celebrity. The buzz about Bridget--the British were gobbling up the book and babbling in Bridgetspeak--had already leapt the Atlantic, and when the book went on sale here in 1998 Bridget fans, largely single career women, bought it in bulk to distribute to co-workers. They called their girlfriends to read aloud passages from the fictional diary of the 30-ish London career girl. They threw Bridget Jones theme parties on their 30th birthdays. The New York Times declared that Bridget had become the best friend of thousands of women.

Now Bridget is back, in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," and the calorie-counting, thigh-hating, man-hunting hedonist, has found self-help spirituality.

This should at first blush please Bridget's critics, who would have like to send Bridget a copy of "Codependent No More." Like Ally McBeal, the desperate and neurotic Bridget views life without a man as meaningless (though Ally at least has an interesting career, while Bridget drifts from job to job, wanting nothing more than to pay the rent). Feminists in particular have criticized Fielding for suggesting that unmarried folks--"singletons," in Bridget's parlance--are aimless and unfulfilled, able to find satisfaction only in a beau.

When we last left Bridget had found her Prince Charming. Having spent the better part of a year lusting after one of London's most eligible bachelors, Bridget finally snagged the wealthy attorney Mark Darcy (catch the not-so-subtle reference to "Pride and Prejudice"?). Not that this made any particular sense. For months, Mark found Bridget's desperate, clingy ways a turn-off, and didn't give her the time of day; at the end of the novel, he inexplicably confessed his undying affection. Bridget and Darcy, we assumed, would live happily ever after.

But we find in "The Edge of Reason" that Darcy's love is no panacea. Between succumbing to Cadbury's chocolate, and fending off the scheming Rebecca, who is out to get Darcy for herself, Bridget turns to self-help. Her reading list will entertain the most devoted John Gray fans. Bridget stocks up on "Beyond Co-dependency with a Man Who Can't Commit," "Loving Your Separated Man Without Losing Your Mind" and "If the Buddha Dated." "Self-help books . . . . are a new form of religion," says Bridget when Darcy looks askance at her bulging bookcases. "If organized religion collapses then people start trying to find another set of rules." Self-help books, she adds, have much in common with Christianity and Buddhism, citing their emphasis on "positive thinking" and forgiveness.

Soon Bridget, spurred by Darcy's departure, has a full-fledged "spiritual epiphany," and resolves to be self-reliant ("Unless Mark Darcy wants to go back out with me. Oh God, hope so."), not to worry about her weight or stress about Bad Hair Days; and, in general, to lead a more spiritual life. Bridget's spiritual path includes a healthy dose of asceticism: she chastises herself for fixating on her six-month spell without sex: "Look, am not supposed to be thinking about sex. Am spiritual."

Bridget finds her salvation--not, however, in a burst of self-confidence and self-reliance--and certainly not in God, who appears in this book only as an exasperated exclamation. She is saved by the same charming rogue who saved her the first time around. Self-help does lend a hand. After Darcy softens and buys his own copy of "How To Lose Love But Keep Your Self-Esteem," he confesses, yet again, his devotion.

But under Fielding's fluff and satire is a lesson worth listening to. Bridget's interest in self-help spirituality suggests that even she realizes that there must be more to life than a boring job and a boyfriend who's great in bed. Maybe in the next installment, Bridget will realize she's looking for God.

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