Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend

"Teen angst has never been such serious business--or this much fun! In his secret diary, British teen Adrian Mole excruciatingly details every morsel of his turbulent adolescence. Mixed in with daily reports about the zit sprouting on his chin are heartrending passages about his parents' chaotic marriage. Adrian sees all, and he has something to say about everything. Delightfully self-centered, Adrian is the sort of teen who could rule a much better world--if only his crazy relatives and classmates would get out of his way."
Lately a lot of book blogs I nose around have been concerned with reading the classics. I see the sci-fi masterlist being posted everywhere, and more than a few of the non sci-fi blogs I read are tackling some less speculative classics (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doesn't count). It made me feel like maybe I should stop being such a philistine and start exploring the great literature of days gone by. Should I start with Tolstoy (wasn't he a Bolshevik?), or maybe Dickens? (Would Dan Simmons' Drood count?) Then I started to feel a little lightheaded, so I decided to ease myself in with the Secret Dairy of Adrian Mole, which my coworker Kim told me she had to read in school, and everyone knows its only a classic if you had to read it in school. Plus I bought the book and it's sequels ages ago, so it was already conveniently on my bookshelf. This book falls squarely into the genre that possibly already exists or that possibly I just made up called ‘Thatcher-eqsue.” Thatcher-esque literature, so named for the period under Margeret Thatcher in which is was written, is characterised by the appearance of depressing working class surroundings and a feeling of overwhelming Britishness. And trust me, the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has both of these things in spades. It's all angst and pence, which now I think about it sounds like a law firm...

I would have to say that The Secret Diary, etc is probably the best example of a book in the form of a diary that I've ever read. Hell, scratch the probably. The things reads like an actual diary. Oftentimes with this style of book the diary entries don't read true, the diary writer (diary-est? diary-er?) might recount solid passages of dialogue, for example, or they might foreshadow upcoming events (which is ok is the book is 'diary of a chick who can see the future,' but otherwise not so much). Townsend displays none of these faults. The only thing that some people might point to as being un-diary like is Adrian's habit of referring to people by their full names instead of using abbreviations. However I am fully onboard with it as 1) it's a writing technique that bugs me and, 2) as a self proclaimed intellectual I believe that young Adrian would write out full names every time.

Now I'm not saying that the book is without flaws, in fact the major complaints I have with it are because it is so true to its diary form. Namely there seems to be no overreaching plot. It's just a self centered kid writing a little bit almost every day about his life. There is not much in the way of traditional narrative road marks, such as a clearly defined beginning, middle and conclusion. Stuff happens, some more stuff happens, and then there are no more pages. There is no real ending, no satisfying conclusion, just no more words. As I said, it reads exactly like a real diary, and when we read the last entry it's prety easy to imagne that Adrian had kept on going in a new journal, (especially considering the three other Adrian Mole books on my shelf). There is character development though. The Adrian in the first entry is not the same Adrian in the last and after all (are you sick of hearing me say this yet?) a book's characters are the most important thing.

I found myself not minding the lack of traditional plot too much, or at all really, because Adrian has such a fantastic voice. He's a self centered little burk, filled with angst of ridiculous proportions. What really endears him to you though is the way he gets so hung up on silly stuff like pimples and vitamins, while the pretty epic family drama doesn't seem to phase him at all. (Of course would could argue that his 13 and a quarter year old mind can't deal with him mother's abandonment or his father's nervous breakdown so he obsesses over the size of his 'thing' instead...) It also helps that Adrian is really funny, although in an unintentionally oblivious kind of way. Indeed most of the books humour derives from us seeing what Adrian doesn't, a conceit which should get old but actually doesn't. There's also a lot of clever social commentary going on, which flies right over Adrian's head, but not ours.

Possibly I am making Adrian out to sound like a total idiot, and he's not. He's just a little emotionally stunted, and really self centered. It will be interesting to see how Adrian changes as he grows up in the latter books (I have a vague idea that he's middle aged by the last one), and I'm sure I'll find out next time the mood takes me to read a classic.

How did I get this book? purchased second hand 


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