Adrian Mole is a character that accompanied the British public for thirty years. First introduced in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ published in 1982, Adrian grew and developed throughout the subsequent decades, while also becoming the chronicler of the societal changes happening in the United Kingdom. I remember I read the first book ages ago, and the memory is vague at best. This one I got for free as a hand me down I think, as I have no recollection of buying it. After re-reading The Year of Magical Thinking and Grief Is The Thing With Feathers I was in dire need of a lighter read, so Adrian came in handy.
We meet again in 1997, on the day of the general election. Adrian’s first love, Pandora, becomes a Labour MP. Adrian works now as a chef, though that may be an overstatement, in a restaurant specializing in serving offal in London. He has a son, who is being raised by his mother living still in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, is estranged from his wife, and continues to write his diary. We meet him when he travels home to cast his vote.
I won’t go into the details of Adrian’s adventures, for they are as bonkers as you can expect if you know the character, if you don’t then it’s probably best to start from the beginning of the series. I laughed a lot, both at Adrian’s semi-naive observations and the silliness of everything around him. But it was also a chance to reminisce on a world gone by now. I was very young in the ‘90s, so maybe that’s why the world seemed simpler. But somehow when I think back to that time when Labour won in the UK it felt hopeful, and a lot more cheerful. Especially when one contrasts it with the current Boris-time (Boris even has a tiny cameo in the book, even in 1997 he was to loud to be completely ignored). I know we’ve been told we’ll ‘prosper mightily’, but I struggle to buy it (when I write this it’s still December and there’s no deal as of now, by the time this post is out maybe we’ll have more clarity).
The fact that the times felt more hopeful by no means means that politicians were more competent, or everything was peachy. Actually, that is one of the strengths of this book, apart from Adrian’s distinct voice, that it calls BS on things taking place in reality. Townsend is merciless in laughing at the double-facedness, silliness, and pettiness of people and politicians alike (I know politicians are supposedly people, but sometimes I struggle to fully accept this). It’s one of those books that allows us to laugh at the main character, but also ourselves. For we can find here most of the little sins we are guilty of.
Is it realistic, probably not, but it doesn’t have to be. The distorted mirror image is still a reflection. I enjoyed this book for the laughs it gave me, but also for the lightness with which Townsend writes. You can feel it’s effortless or her (if wasn’t then it doesn’t show). It was very interesting to be cast back in time, to remember, think of what came out of all this hope and get to know Adrian’s crazy stories and people around him. He may be silly, but sometimes he feels like to most grown-up person in the room.
I’m seriously considering going back to the beginning of the series, to take a look at what Townsend had to say about Thatcher-era Britain. The sad thing is that the series, being so grounded in real events, will probably not last beyond the lifetime of people involved in those events. It certainly is not a timeless classic, but it is a classic for our times. I also will never cease to wonder what would Adrian Mole make of Boris and Brexit, not to mention the pandemic.