True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole by Sue Townsend

trueconfessI have no idea how and why this messy and less-than-funny installment of the Adrian Mole series came to see the light of day (a wild guess: someone somewhere probably thought that it would be a good idea to publish a random something in between two “regular” books), but I’m not going to search the web to find it out, because I don’t think there’s any conspiracy in the background – something the importance of which I might have missed. I’m pretty sure that an average Adrian Mole novel is not as mind-boggling as, say, a novel by Thomas Pynchon, and a Mole novel can usually be understood without perusing a Townsend-wiki. I mean – I assume I understand this book. And since I understand it, I cannot but wonder: what the hell is this incoherent, cheap stuff?

The novel consists of three markedly different sections that aren’t especially good or coherent on their own to begin with, but when it comes to answering the question of how they are connected, I’m really at a loss. If I’m in a benevolent mood, I can say: very accidentally. And if I’m in more of a grumpy-critical mood, I can say: not at all.

The first part of the book mainly consists of excerpts from Adrian Mole’s diary, describing different eras of the protagonist’s life. A couple of these are more or less funny, but they never make me laugh out loud, which is strange, because I’ve been known to laugh a lot while reading the first two Adrian Mole books.

Then comes the second part: it’s mainly made up of the travel notes of Sue Townsend (or her fictional alter-ego): how she spent her time in Mallorca, how she went with a bunch of other writers to Russia, or how she experienced a totally random this-or-that. To be honest, Townsend isn’t particularly funny here – or perhaps she developed a sense of humor which I don’t find funny at all. Sure, I’m not into every kind of humor in the world, but as I said, I distinctly remember that I used to find her kind of humor very funny in the first two Adrian Mole books, not very long ago, and I don’t think my sense of humor changed that much in the meantime.

And then there’s the third part which features excerpts from the childhood diary of Margaret Thatcher, written in the trademark Adrian Mole style. Of course, Margaret Thatcher’s childhood abounds in different kinds of joys and moral difficulties than the childhood of Townsend’s immortal Adrian Mole. For instance, we learn that one of little Margaret’s favorite pastime activities is reading books about chemistry; or that she goes through a major crisis if she steals a single raisin from a bag of raisins; or that she condemns her mother because she works a mere 16 hours per day; or that on Mondays she says: “finally, it’s a school-day again!” Oh, yes, and we also learn that she already hates working-class people, and that she firmly believes that everyone who’s poor has only himself to blame. You get the point – she’s portrayed as an abominable workaholic/perfectionist/moral champion, and everybody in their right mind makes sure to steer clear of her. Well, okay. I admit that some of her diary entries are mildly (very mildly) comic, but in the end I don’t like this at all. It’s too cheap, too direct, and not at all witty. Townsend did a much better job criticizing Margaret Thatcher in the first two books of this series.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

adrianmole13I was around 13¾ years of age when I first read this novel, so I only had some vague recollections about it. But I definitely remembered that I liked it, so I re-read it now, and I still like it a lot, for many reasons.

First of all, I like it because this novel is really laugh-out-loud funny. Adrian Mole, a moderately loser teenager – whose life is a never-ending fight against his pimples, his careless parents, the unmanageable family dog, the school bully, and, in general, the whole English reality of the 1980s – writes about his trials and tribulations (some of which can by no means be dismissed as the usual stupid teenage whining) with a low-key, casually self-deprecating, ironic humor which I find irresistible – but of course I’m a great fan of this kind of deadpan, disrespectful humor in general.

Besides the humor, I like the fact that this is a very „English” novel. I assume it’s clear from the posts on this blog that I’m interested in every single era and facet of English life and literature (e.g. rural England; urban England; England as seen by a loser teenage boy; etc.), and the way Townsend’s slightly naive/childish protagonist depicts the England of the early 80s (both directly and indirectly) and the way he interprets some of the key events of the era is very interesting (and again: funny as hell). Just to give you an example, my favorite episode dealing with English reality is the one about the approaching wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The whole country is greatly anticipating the royal wedding, but Adrian’s father can only be bothered so far as to hang a Charles-and-Diana dish-towel on his front door – I guess this gesture speaks for itself and doesn’t really need to be commented upon.

By the way, re-reading this novel again made me think about the difference between proper teenage-novels and young adult novels. The distinction between these two became something of a hobby-horse of mine in recent years, but I haven’t yet been able to come up with an all-encompassing definition. For me the main difference is that I absolutely love proper teenage-novels, and I find them „true” because they don’t try to simplify what it’s like to be a teenager, while young adult novels ring false to me and make me mad, because they tend to simplify and oversimplify everything. Anyway, this novel is, fortunately, a proper teenage-novel, and I’m really glad that I read novels like this when I was a teenager, and not young adult stuff.

But I guess I enjoyed and appreciated this novel more now than when I first read it as a teenager. This is mainly due to the fact that besides its depiction of England and English society which probably couldn’t have meant a lot to me when I was fourteen, it’s also full of nice, slightly idiotic and very funny literary references which I’m able to appreciate now. On the one hand, Adrian Mole is a voracious reader, and I’m always much interested in the reading lists of fictitious characters. On the other hand, there are half-hidden literary references as well, definitely directed at the reader – e.g. there’s a character called Grace Pool who’s serving her sentence in prison for arson. I know that details like this meant nothing to me at the age of almost-fourteen, but luckily, 15 years passed since then, I read a couple of other books in the meantime, and nowadays I’m always delighted to come across any kind of intertextuality anywhere.