Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Susan Lillian Townsend: Sue Townsend, September 10—12, 2013
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Adrian Mole gets a slight format change in this latest edition of the series. Gone are the daily diary entries, replaced instead with an mix of radio transcripts, letters and a few of the more familiar diary entries.
The principle reason for the change appears to be the ability to fast-forward big gaps of time. Where the previous instalments have taken place over a 12 month period, True Confessions covers four and half years between 1985 and mid-1989. The strength of this format is in preventing any one storyline from dragging on, and instead honing in on highlights of this time frame. However, it does mean that there is much less continuity than in previous editions, and major events in Adrian’s life, such as moving out of home, are given a short shrift because we don’t see how he copes in the aftermath.
The more bizarre entries are the supposed radio transcripts from Adrian’s time on the airwaves. Was Adrian really on BBC Radio? How did this come about? Why on earth did they allow it? None of these answers are even hinted at, and it’s a thoroughly bizarre episode. If it’s true, it’s madness and makes no sense. If it’s not true, then Adrian has suddenly become delusional and it still makes no sense.
The letters between Adrian and Barry Kent are particularly funny, while the ones between Adrian and Hamish aren’t. A list of 30 British English words followed by the same list with definitions is not what I call an entertaining read. I call that the dictionary. Oh, there may have been funny ways to highlight transatlantic faux pas between the pen pals but this was as hilarious as chicken pox.
Overall, I prefer the old format particularly because the new one cuts off the story just as it’s getting into its stride, but it may just be a matter of personal taste and in any case it’s great fun to hang out with Adrian’s brain for a while again.
The book then digresses further by binning Adrian off and showing two new secret diaries: Susan Lillian Townsend’s and Margaret Hilda Roberts.
I’ll keep Townsend’s short, as I dearly wish she had. The author sticks her oar in to break the fourth wall and piece-to-camera on a few topics. The first is a review of what she did on holiday by herself. Tantalising stuff. It was almost vaguely entertaining in the way the in-flight magazine is when you’ve forgotten your book but nothing compared to the diabolical boredom heaped on me with her review of her trip to Russia. She and some other authors were sent on an Anglo/Russian writing conference and it’s a name-dropping yawnfest of mundane meals and had-to-be-there jokes that I couldn’t wait to end. There is no reason or point to any of this and I don’t understand what she was trying to do.
Townsend shuts up and assumes the voice of Margaret Hilda Roberts. Ostensibly a young Maggie Thatcher’s diary, this character assassination is actually quite funny. She foreshadows many of Thatcher’s later policies, from milk snatching to the coal mines, sometimes quite subtly but always quite wittily. Townsend pulls no punches and it’s a great piece. The latter correspondence with the agony aunt and constituent are equally excellent. It’s a send-up, it’s exaggerated and it’s hilarious (and written while Baroness Thatcher was alive, thankfully!)
The only issue with the Roberts/Thatcher section is its thematic similarity to the Mole tomes before it. Yes, they’re very different characters but there are a number of parallels: illusions of grandeur, social incompetence to the point of isolation, problems with authority and desperate longing for a person just out of reach. A small niggle, but it feels like we’ve heard some of Margaret’s content before.
So a very different Mole experience. Does it work? Yes, in the main it does. Some things are lost with the changes, but it’s still a fun collection. And we’ll say Townsend and Thatcher cancel each other out – something I’m sure Townsend would be happy about.