Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (Sue Townsend)

--The blurb--
"'If I turn out to be mentally deranged in adult life, it will be all my mother's fault.'
Adrian Mole continues to struggle valiantly against the slings and arrows of growing up and his own family's attempts to scar him for life in this second volume of his secret diary."
--The review--
A question that dogs university students of literature everywhere is this: should we read literature intrinsically, or extrinsically? Is the time period in which a text was written important? Or do plot, characters and so on matter more? Is all literature reflective of the time period in which it was created, regardless of whether or not it deliberately set out to do this? Children of the 1980s may not have grown up with Sue Townsend's classic Adrian Mole series, but now that they are older, it is a shining example not only of comedic British literature, but also a good representation of life for many people throughout their early childhoods. And as protagonist Adrian ages, Townsend - who is renowned for her skilled social commentary - continues to do a sterling job of documenting the United Kingdom in which we have lived, and continue to live today.

Now, nearly thirty years on from the 1984 publication of the series' second volume, entitled The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole, even those who are not fans of extrinsic reading must surely concur that it not only successfully encapsulates aspects of British life in the 1980s, as lived by their parents or even older siblings, but equally that it sums up the navel-gazing attitude that's particular to adolescence. Adrian Mole, though, is not a mere navel-gazer: his pseudo-intellectualism means that comedy is found at every turn from the fact that he is not as clever as he thinks he is. This approach to her protagonist makes Townsend's work highly reminiscent of that of the Grossmiths, with the latters' most famous main character (Mr Pooter in another British comedy classic, The Diary Of A Nobody) drawing many parallels with Master Mole.

However, the fifteen-year-old Mole's character assassination is done mainly in kind: we laugh with him, not at him, when we recognise signs of our adolescent selves, and Townsend regularly impels us to empathise with him as his family undergoes fundamental structural changes. As set up in the first volume of the series, Adrian remains an ultimately caring young man who strives for moral decency, and it is this carefully-controlled balance of tender moments and witty one-liners that creates an immensely readable sequel to the original Adrian Mole volume. While not all loose ends are tied up, this is easily forgivable, as many of life's problems are not easily resolved, and this is, after all, a record of Adrian Mole's life (and, indeed, a valuable social record and reflection of our own). It in the end makes for compulsive reading, and readers today need not even wait for the next volume to be delivered, as they can of course finish this volume and, in the next breath, download the next to their e-reader. One wonders what Adrian would say to that.    

other novels by Sue Townsend
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 (1982)
Rebuilding Coventry (1988)
The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989)
The Queen and I (1992)
Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993)
Ghost Children (1997)
Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999)
Number Ten (2002)
Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)
Queen Camilla (2006)
The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 (2008)
Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009)
The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year (2012)
Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (2012)

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