Adrian Mole is 30 or is that 43 3/4? …

Can you believe it? The first Adrian Mole book by Sue Townsend is thirty years old! Was it really back in 1982 that we first met the spotty and pubescent Leicester teenager?

I can well remember the publishing phenomenon that was the first Adrian Mole book.  I was a few months into my first job for an electronics company in Great Yarmouth and finding it hard to get along in off-season Norfolk after the hustle and bustle of London.  A good funny book was just the thing to banish the blues and I loved it.

Adrian is somehow, for someone so pompous and superior, surprisingly easy to love.  Underlying his unerring seriousness about life and his secure knowledge that he is a great intellectual. tortured poet and novelist manqué, is an insecure young man who just wants to be loved.  This is Townsend’s triumph; if Adrian hadn’t been so, it couldn’t work as brilliantly as it does. I do love his pretensions…

Sunday January 11th
First after Epiphany
Now I know I am an intellectual. I saw Malcolm Muggeridge on the television last night. and I understood nearly every word. It all adds up. A bad home, a poor diet, not liking punk. I think I will join the library and see what happens.

In years to follow, seven more volumes and occasional extra episodes will appear in Adrian’s story taking him up to his fortieth birthday.  Of course it’s not all about Adrian, but also his family, friends, colleagues, enemies and Pandora Braithwaite, the undying object of his affection and love object through the years.

Sunday May 9th
4th after Easter, Mother’s Day (USA and Canada)
I have just realized that I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.

Monday May 10th
I asked Pandora to show me one of her nipples but she refused. I tried to explain that it was in the interest of widening my life experience, but she buttoned her cardigan up to the neck and went home.

(The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, 1984)

Poor Adrian! Of course by the time he’s in the sixth form, he looks back on his earlier diaries with the benefit of hindsight…

Mole on Lifestyle
October 1985
I often look back on my callow youth, and when I do a smile flits across my now mature but pitted face. I hardly recognize the naïve boy I once was. To think that I once believed that Evelyn Waugh was a woman! Of course now, with a couple of ‘O’ levels under my belt, I am far more sophisticated and I know that Evelyn Waugh, should he be alive today, would be very, indeed, dead proud of his daughter, Auberon; because of course Evelyn is the father of Auberon and not, as I once thought, the mother.

(True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, 1989)

The new 30th Anniversary editions from Penguin

I’ve loved getting to know Adrian and his extended family again. I don’t really like Pandora, but then we’re not meant to.  I have though loved the episodes with Adrian’s arch enemy Barry Kent, who starts off as school bully, only to eclipse our ‘hero’ in the literary stakes much to Adrian’s disgust and envy.

So far I’ve re-read the first four in the series, and am about to embark on new territory with the remaining volumes which I haven’t read before.  What I’ve loved is the whole nostalgia trip so far, reliving the 1980s through Adrian’s warped lens.  I’ve guffawed and chuckled, and gone ‘Aww’ when not so good things have happened – but such is Townsend’s skill that it only takes a sentence to turn it around into pure comedy once more.

It’s no wonder that Open Book listeners on BBC Radio 4 have voted the first book in the series as the funniest novel ever.  In his naïvety, the young Adrian is funnier than the older more knowing one, who can be a bit of a jobsworth and pedant. A couple of books on and the comedy is beginning to become slightly farcical and more mannered rather than that of the innocent abroad. Adrian is also beginning to  realize that he’s wasting his life, but short of finding a publisher for his life’s work doesn’t really know what to do about it. It’ll be fun to find out what does happen.

Secret Diary (Mole 1) was a huge crossover hit, popular with both teens and adults of the time. Reading these books now was/is a joy for me, but I get all the jokes – I was there. Today’s teens and YA audience may struggle to find the humour in parts if lacking the cultural references of those days; however the character types are all recognisable and basically funny anyway with traits we can all identify with or know examples of.  I wouldn’t want to discourage them from enjoying this brilliant saga. As the press release from Penguin says …

“1982 – While British soldiers fight a war far away and the Conservative government grapples with mass unemployment, the country celebrates a Royal wedding.
2012 – Not a lot has changed.”

Book #1 – (10/10), #2 – (10/10), #3 – (7.5/10), #4 – (8/10)

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My books were kindly supplied by Penguin Books – Thank you! The new editions to be published on Jan 19th come with a host of extras in the back – Adrian’s family tree and potted biogs of all the main characters, Adrian’s CV, Q&A with Sue Townsend and much more.

To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (Adrian Mole 1) by Sue Townsend.

9 thoughts on “Adrian Mole is 30 or is that 43 3/4? …

  1. Juna says:

    I can’t wait to read Adrian Mole and have put a hold on the first novel at my local library. From the excerpts you include, Townsend’s series sounds a bit like Stephen Fry for teens. (I’m thinking in particular of Fry’s protagonist in The Liar–also named Adrian!)

    • gaskella says:

      Juna – I read Fry’s ‘The Liar’ so long ago I can’t remember it except for the hippo on the front cover (is that right?). If you like Fry, you’ll certainly love Adrian Mole though, so I hope you have fun with him.

  2. Carola Huttmann says:

    Thanks for a fabulous review, Annabel. This was one of my favourite books of the 1980s (can’t believe it’s 30 years ago!!). I’d seen it advertsed, but as it wasn’t a ‘serious’ book thought it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. That is until I sat on the train home from work one day opposite a man in a buisiness suit who, reading it, was laughing out loud until the tears ran down his face. I went out at lunchtime the next day to buy a copy and am very glad I did.

  3. winstonsdad says:

    I read first couple at the time ,I loved the tv series ,I may like to try them all at some point ,and remember the times they were written ,all the best stu

  4. Fay says:

    BBC Radio aired readings from these novels, and I was hooked from the first one. The actor who read the teen narrator part, with his cracking voice and adolescent angst and sarcasm and childish tenderness, was perfect. I did not know there was a tv version. Must go see if it’s available on dvd.

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