Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾: Sue Townsend, 1—8 July, 2011
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Like other things for the 13¾’s like Haribo and cheesy films, they can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. On the surface, Adrian lives an entertaining life, caught up in the dramas of the day-to-day: school, family, girls and a horribly tight budget. We can relate to his experiences, both trials and triumphs, and easily engage with the titular calendar. Sue Townsend does a brilliant job of regressing to her teenage years to remember the intimacies of the most awkward age group.
For the adult reader, though, Adrian Mole represents more than daft fun. While his peers will share in his bewilderment, Townsend cleverly gives just enough clues to her more mature audience to piece the jigsaw together and read between the lines. Also set firmly in 1982—1983, Margaret Thatcher’s government has an important role to play. The political sympathies of the characters’ are alluded to and often stated explicitly, along with the bias and preconceptions Adrian has picked up from his parents.
Mole, 13¾ – and the series in general – has a really clever element of social commentary, mapping the attitudes and sympathies of the British public throughout real events, such as the wedding of Charles and Diana in this first instalment. This takes the series from being disposable fun to a shrewd, carefully considered archive of public feeling.
Townsend’s decision to present the story as a diary, as the title would suggest, gives us a unique insight into Adrian’s mind. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments that just invoke hysteria, with Adrian’s experiences, perceptions and rapidly changing views. The writing is short and snappy and keeps the pace going and it impressively doesn’t miss a single date in over a year, besides the brief couple of days he left his diary at home. Written from Adrian’s viewpoint entirely, the self-absorbed teenaged attitude provides a refreshingly fun alternative to the adult narrator you’d expect with their levelled understanding, and is a perfect vehicle to the social commentary and exposure of prejudices. Although it does, arguably, limit how well you can get to know the other characters, Townsend does a magnificent job of building a really vivid, colourful cast through Adrian’s eyes that doesn’t leave you cheated at all.
A fantastic read that’s nostalgic (without a rose tint) for not just the 1980’s, but also the 13¾’s.