A teenager worries about sex, acne, his parents and all the people don’t appreciate his genius in a British bestseller with intergenerational appeal
The Adrian Mole Diaries: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. By Sue Townsend. HarperPerennial, 304 pp., $12.95, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
In the realm of literary prize-giving, comic novels are the neglected stepchildren, traditionally ignored by judges on both sides of the Atlantic. So you won’t find The Adrian Mole Diaries on any list of winners of the Man Booker Prize, the next recipient of which will be announced on Oct. 16.
But few of the winners have delighted as many people as this fictional journal of a working-class English teenager, Adrian Mole, which has sold more than five million copies since its publication in the mid-1980s. The Adrian Mole Diaries has little in common with all those dreary American young-adult novels that unpersuasively suggest that – no matter how awful high school is – there is always a wise and understanding adult who can help. And it’s not just because the volume deftly satirizes the trends and events of its era instead of sentimentalizing them.
Most teenagers only think they’re smarter than their parents. Sue Townsend has created the rare teenage boy who, though entirely normal, really is smarter than the adults in his life. In his first diary entry, Adrian can hardly hide his disgust that his father got the family dog drunk on cherry brandy and that his mother is too distracted to wear the green lurex apron he gave her for Christmas. But his feelings of superiority don’t keep him from worrying about all the usual teenage concerns, such as sex, acne, a local street gang and the inability of teachers and others to see his genius. Nor is he too self-absorbed to be kind. He and his off-again, on-again girlfriend, Pandora, spend much of their time trying to help a cranky neighbor and to remedy what they see as social injustices.
Adrian embodies so perfectly the typical adolescent mix of insecurity and grandiosity his diary appeals equally to adults and teenagers. “None of the teachers at school have noticed that I am an intellectual,” he writes. “They will be sorry when I am famous.” How nice that his words were, in a sense, prophetic: Adrian has become one of the most famous schoolboys in British fiction.
Best line: Townsend shows a nearly pitch-perfect ear for social comedy in this volume, so every page has a “best line.” Here’s a sample involving Pandora Braithwaite, the love of Adrian’s life:
“My precious Pandora is going out with Craig Thomas. That’s the last time you get a Mars bar from me, Thomas!
“Barry Kent is in trouble for drawing a nude woman in Art. Ms Fossington-Gore said that it wasn’t so much the subject matter but his ignorance of basic biological facts that was so upsetting. I did a good drawing of the Incredible Hulk smashing Craig Thomas to bits. Ms Fossington-Gore said it was ‘a powerful statement of monolithic oppression.’”
Worst line: Adrian may be too bright to think, as he does at first, that Evelyn Waugh is a woman.
Recommendation? An excellent novel for adult fans of Nick Hornby and Helen Fielding and for bloggers trying to develop a comic style or persona. Many 12-to-14-year-old boys also love this book.
Caveat lector: I haven’t read the later books in the Adrian Mole series, which some critics regard as less funny.
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© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.