I can still remember the day I unearthed The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 from the shelves of my local library. I, too, was a teenager and had never encountered a book like it before. A quick scan through the pages revealed its easy layout and as a voracious reader, albeit a lazy one, the format of the book appealed. Within the covers of that book, I found pure pleasure. I have read and re-read that book and all the other Adrian Mole diaries many times throughout my life, even knowing chunks of text by heart, but I never tire of it. Sue Townsend's characters are superbly drawn with idiosyncrasies and nuances that are second to none. Narratively, the most unusual things happen to Adrian but somehow Townsend makes his life entirely believable.
Adrian's naivety coupled with his grandiose fantasies perfectly capture the character of an adolescent. As a teenager myself, I had never encountered a fictional character that seemed so like me. Although Adrian is male, his angst is universal, his fears ubiquitous. Apart from Adrian himself, Townsend weaves a tapestry of other people around him. His feckless father George and wayward mother Pauline are two anchors in his life. Parents who make mistakes, come unstuck and yet come together again and who are, for the most part, always there for Adrian. There's also the wonderful dynamic of Adrian's relationship with Bert Baxter, the OAP that Adrian befriends. Not a typical relationship for an adolescent but one through which Townsend can demonstrate not only Adrian's sensibilities but generational differences too.
However, my favourite relationship throughout the books has to be the one between Adrian and Pandora. She is a constant in Adrian's life, almost a sidekick, but also a fabulous creation in her own right. The fantastically monikered PLEB, (Pandora Louise Elizabeth Braithwaite), is a straight talking, single-minded feminist who from a young age has her heart set on becoming successful. Her good background coupled with intellect and determination means that she succeeds in becoming one of Tony Blair's babes - an occupation which allows Townsend to critique the then Labour government with the lightest touch.
Townsend's irony is that Adrian believes himself to be a powerful intellectual, clever and erudite, but he never achieves any of his dreams. Pandora however does; he is in love with her throughout the books despite the fact that she lets him down and treats him badly, he forever carries a torch for her. She is a constant reminder of his own failings and yet he cannot live without her in his life. As a teen, I longed to be a Pandora, 'a treacle haired beauty' with brains, principles and drive. I think that Hermione Granger perhaps owes a lot to Miss Braithwaite.
Of course, Townsend didn't just write about Adrian. Her acclaimed Ghost Children, published in 1997 explored the darker theme of abortion and her recent book The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year details its principal character Eva's withdrawal from ordinary life. It is a dark book and we never quite know whether Eva is sad, angry, tired of life or experiencing a mental breakdown.
So it is with sadness that I today realised that there will be no more Adrian Mole diaries. The Prostrate Years, the last of the chronicles, sees Adrian being treated for prostate cancer, and returning to the fold with his parents. He has turned forty and like many of us looks back at his life and wonders what on earth he has done with it. Thankfully Townsend leaves us with a glimmer of hope; an enduring friendship continues and Adrian's life carries on with its twists and turns. So an upbeat ending for our hero, where Adrian lives happily ever after in our imaginations, the perpetual teenager now a forever forty something suspended in a life where he will never grow old. Perhaps he does get his happy ending after all.Reuse content