There are few literary characters out there that have had the affect on me that Adrian Mole has. Adrian Mole is, quite literally, a part of me. I see him in people, I find a quote for every occasion, I make bonds for life with fellow readers and I have read the books over and over and over again. In fact my sister and I have a whole type of understanding of the human race, based on Adrian Mole. The books are painfully funny, piercingly clever and as subtle as only the Brits can be.
Over twenty seven years, British author Sue Townsend has penned nine Adrian Mole novels starting from when he was 13 and ¾ in 1982’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and currently ending with his 40th birthday in the latest effort, Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. As a comic creation, they don’t come any more subtly crafted than Adrian. He is has no self awareness, a terrible sense of humour, a selfish streak and the dreadful burden of thinking he is far more intelligent and talented than he really is. He is short sighted, narrow minded and self important. That these traits manage to come across so beautifully in first person diary entries is a testament to the cleverness of Townsend’s writing. As is the fact she has so wonderfully captured the adolescent and adult male psyche as a woman – focalizing through a gender different to the writer’s own is difficult to do well.
In The Prostrate Years we find Adrian living in the converted pigsty with his wife, Daisy and their precocious daughter, Gracie. Adrian is still an unfulfilled writer, still working on a manuscript (this time it’s for a play, Plague!) and still in love with Pandora. He is also still naïve and introspective but there are more shades of good to Adrian now, far more so than in the earlier diaries, and Townsend has done a terrific job in believably developing his character without losing what makes Adrian, Adrian. Cancer, marriage, redundancy, infidelity and the nature of family are all deftly explored in a novel that is perhaps not the most caustic of the series but certainly a worthy continuation.
The thing is, we all know an Adrian Mole (and indeed versions of the supporting cast of characters) and I do think that’s part of the genius of him as a character. The humour never once falls into farce or parody; it retains this terrific mix of not only perceptive characterization but biting social commentary making it a layered series that gets funnier with every read.
If you haven’t met Adrian Mole then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.