Mark is reading the latest Adrian Mole book. Yes, they’re still going on – and to judge by the frequent shouts of laughter emanating from Mark, Sue Townsend has not lost her touch. It’s called ‘Adrian Mole, The Prostrate Years’, and Adrian now lives in a converted pigsty with his wife Daisy and their daughter Gracie. Adrian’s parents live in another pigsty across the field, and Daisy is miserable. She hates living in what she calls ‘yokel land’ – a place where ‘the populace think that Russell Brand is a type of electric kettle’. Adrian still works in the decrepit bookshop in Leicester (we know the shop it’s based on) run by the enigmatic and ancient Mr Carlton-Hayes (the name is one of a series of local jokes which provide an extra layer of amusement for Leicester folk). The shop makes no money at all but when it’s suggested to Mr C-H that he might sell up to Tesco he says of the books: ‘But where would they go? – as though they were a displaced people.’
Adrian’s literary ambitions still burn brightly: his latest offering is a play called ‘Plague!’ of which he has sent copies to various people: he is pleased with the local vicar’s comment on ‘the achievement of giving a cast of sixty characters two lines each,’ which he takes as a compliment. The vicar goes on to lament that he is too busy to take part in the play but assures Adrian that his wife will read it as soon as she has finished the complete works of Iris Murdoch.
Adrian’s son (by another partner) Glenn is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan but he sees rather too much of his parents: his father is now in a wheelchair which has an ashtray welded to its arm, and his mother hasn’t changed either: ‘Her face was its usual mask of Max Factor and disappointment with life.’
Like Holden Caulfield, Mole is an unreliable narrator – but unlike the hero of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ he is sympathetic and engaging. He is self-deluding and self-obsessed but at the same time there is something very touching about his story – and the fact that Townsend has maintained these qualities – and the humour – over several decades and various books, is a tribute to her enduring skill as a writer.
So go get it out of the library. Once Mark has finished it of course…
(in the garden)