If pressed to name the most important literary figure in my life, I’d quite happily dismiss Dickens and scoff at Shakespeare. It’s provincial poet Adrian Albert Mole who’s been my most dependable companion.
Moley celebrates 30 years since the publication of his first diary this year. To mark the occasion his creator Sue Townsend’s publishers are reissuing the entire Mole series, giving readers old and new a chance to marvel at the indignities thrown upon the bard of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which range from losing a true love to his mother’s toyboy to being victimised by a sociopathic swan named Gielgud.
And although the new set of books – featuring a few new extras about Adrian’s life and an introduction by fan David Walliams – look smart, I think I’ll stick to rereading my battered old, mixed-up set of hardbacks and tatty paperbacks of varying editions. Indeed, I still have my copy of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾, which I read for the first time, aged 11½. At that age, I took Adrian’s assertion that he was a thwarted intellectual at face value – failing to realise that lines like “I stroke the places Pandora has sat / Wearing her jodhpurs and riding hat” aren’t the work of an adolescent Eliot. To me, it seemed inevitable that nerdy, spotty, naive Adrian would end up with the beautiful, smart Pandora Braithwaite. I didn’t get the gags about Frank Bough either.
I quickly devoured the next three and waited eagerly for the early New Labour-era Cappuccino Years to be released in 1999. I still didn’t get all the jokes but I read them again and again until my general knowledge caught up with the satire.
Thanks to The Wilderness Years, in which Adrian pathetically follows Pandora to Oxford (she to college, he to newt counting), I’d realised that Adrian was the loser that his friends and family (and mother Pauline) said he was but, like the best comic creations, he was a loser whom the reader can do nothing but root for.
Adrian’s sporadic arrivals in my life have made him feel like a distant friend. Moments from the books pop into my thoughts whenever I encounter everyday things like Newport Pagnell, The Archers and the roof of St Pancras station. My life hasn’t been much like Adrian’s, thank goodness, but his perseverance in the face of inadequacy is an inspirational to all of us provincial divs.
It’s not just Adrian’s life that makes the diaries worth rereading. Few have told the story of modern Britain with as much verve as Townsend. Nor have many British novelists captured the disappointment of the Blair years quite as adroitly as 2004’s Adrian Mole and The Weapons of Mass Destruction in which the folly of Iraq is told through the death of Adrian’s son’s best friend. It’s one of two moments in the Mole series that has brought me to tears.
By the time of the latest (if not necessarily last) book, The Prostrate Years, life had taken its toll on Adrian and his creator. Townsend’s health problems were reflected in Adrian’s prostate cancer – something that didn’t lighten the indignities poured upon him, but, still, made his minor triumphs all the more inspiring. The ending of that book suggested there might be more to come from Sue / Adrian. It’d be terrible if there wasn’t.
Mole may have entered the world before I was born, but it’s been a pleasure to grow up with him. As such, when I was sent a copy of the reissued first diary there was only one thing I could think to do with it – pass it on to my 11-year-old nephew. At least he’ll have Google to tell him who Frank Bough is.
The 30th Anniversary reissues of the Adrian Mole diaries are published by Michael Joseph at £7.99 eachReuse content