News that there will be a third Bridget Jones novel next year has torn through the London literary world. Bridget - for those few who missed her first time round - is the hopeless 30-something introduced to readers in 1996 by the British journalist Helen Fielding. More than 15 million readers are familiar with her daily reckoning of weight, calories, alcohol units and cigarettes. Jones stands among those rare characters in literature who have forged a new genre: chick-lit. So what is chick-lit, and is it still relevant in 2012? Will legions of Bridget's singleton fans have become the smug marrieds they used to so despise? Time to read on.
Why not start with the woman herself? Bridget Jones's Diary ( Picador, Dh47) is the novel that captured a generation when it portrayed the hapless, single Jones amid an ocean of "smug marrieds", and frantically trying to navigate between her caddish boss Daniel Cleaver and the upright lawyer Mark Darcy, while cutting down on cigarettes.
Meanwhile, another young British writer was also there at the chick-lit genesis. Louise Bagshawe's Career Girls (Headline, Dh53) was the first in a 15-book run that runs the gamut from English public schoolgirls in Hollywood to LA princesses in the English countryside. Soon enough, though, Bagshawe gave up chick-lit to pursue another branch of the entertainment industry: she became a British MP.
No tour through the world of chick-lit would be complete without mention of the monstrously successful Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella. A former financial journalist, Kinsella made her fortune chronicling the live of Becky Bloomwood, a - you guessed it - financial journalist who is addicted to shopping. Yes, it's that simple, shopping at Liberty in London, shopping at Bloomingdale's in New York, shopping with a long-lost sister in Shopaholic and Sister (Black Swan, Dh47). You get the idea.
After all this shopping, lunching and heartbreak, you may be ready to investigate the source of the chick-lit phenomenon. Fielding explicitly acknowledged its influence, and chick-lit writers everywhere must surely hold it up as a near-sacred text. Before the third Jones novel hits the shelves, re-read Pride and Prejudice (Penguin, Dh35) by the incomparable 19th-century singleton Jane Austen.
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