Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole Novels

Today has been Father's Day here in the US, which meant I was busier than usual for a Sunday -- I had to have breakfast in bed, and then go out bowling with the family, and then have lunch at a restaurant on the way back from bowling, and then go biking in the park with Thing 2, and then, a few hours later, go out to a big restaurant dinner for the father-in-law. So I haven't gotten nearly as much done today as I wanted to, and I didn't write anything to post today. So, instead, I'll dig into the archives...

For obscure reasons, I
found myself explaining Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole novels in early 2001 on the Straight Dope Message Board. (I believe there may have been a book or two since then, which, of course, I did not know at the time.) And this is what I said then:

Just because I'm compulsive, this full listing, in chronological order, of the series (all books by Sue Townsend):
The second book seem to be available in the USA only in an omnibus of the first two entitled The Adrian Mole Diaries. The rough UK equivalent is Adrian Mole: From Minor to Major, which also includes some material from True Confessions.

True Confessions and Wilderness Years seem to only be available in the USA in an omnibus volume (which might include material not in True Confessions, but which also seems not to include the other characters from that book) called Adrian Mole: The Lost Years.

And that seems to be where we are to date (not including TV tie-ins, playscript versions, and other oddities.) lists as coming in October of this year a book called Adrian Mole: A Comic Novel (I assume that subtitle is just a tentative placeholder).

Anyway, on to personal thoughts. I've read the American versions of the earlier books (Diaries and Lost Years), but not yet Cappuccino. I liked the two books in Diaries quite a lot when I read them -- I thought Adrian seemed real and human. (I'm close to his age, but I only read the Diaries in the mid-90s, so I didn't have much direct identification with Adrian (though I'm pretty sure I would have if I'd read them in the early '80s).

To encapsulate: the first two are wonderful looks at the world through the eyes of a particular kind of smart but unworldly kid, and the tone is perfect. Anyone who was a smart, weird teenager in the early '80s will probably love them.

Lost Years, which I just read last month, I had more mixed feelings about. The True Confessions material takes a scattershot approach, and drags Adrian from young adolescence and the early '80s into young manhood and the Gulf War. Unfortunately, it also take a lovable "might-be" into an obnoxious loser. He keeps the same personality traits, but they're much less endearing when he's 20 -- I started to feel, part-way through, that I was meant to be laughing at Adrian rather than with him. All sorts of unpleasant things happen to him, and he doesn't seem to learn anything -- he seems to turn into a rather dim adult from what was supposedly a bright teenager.

He does grow up a bit by the end of Wilderness, but there's some tough slogging in the middle. There were things I laughed at and felt horrible for laughing at, as if I was personally making Adrian that miserable and unhappy. It's the sign of a pretty good writer, sure, but that's not the reaction you want to get from a light comic novel. All in all, I'd say to stick with the first two.

1 comment:

jmnlman said...

To bring this up to date there was Adrian Mole And The Weapons Of Mass Destruction (Penguin UK 2005) that actually concluded with a relatively happy ending. Possibly a logical completion of the series. There was in 08 the publication of The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 which first appeared as columns in the Guardian.

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