This is one of those books that everyone seems to have read when they were younger but it passed me by. I don’t know why but I just never read it. I mean it is often referred to as one of the greatest pieces of English literature of recent years. In 2019, BBC News included it in their list of 100 most influential novels. So, there must be plenty of people out there who think it was worth reading. I just never did. Maybe I just didn’t like the idea of reading a boy’s diary? As much as I don’t want to perpetuate the idea of gender stereotypes, I wasn’t exactly interested in what a 13/14-year-old boy had to say. Or maybe it was something about diaries in general? I never wrote a diary when I was younger. I think I was always a bit too embarrassed. It seemed too self-indulgent and pathetic. Why did I think my life was so worthy that it deserved being immortalised in a diary? Part of me is quite sad I never did, especially as my memory is o bad these days. Of course, every time one of my friends tells me about reading their old diaries, I am overjoyed that I never tried. Remembering what I was like as a teenager, I can be assured that it wouldn’t make for an easy read.
On January 1st 1981, Adrian Mole starts a diary. Adrian isn’t like every other British teenager: he’s an intellectual. He starts his diary as a way to convey his worries and frustrations with the world around him. His parents aren’t providing him with the life he deserves, the BBC keeps rejecting his poems, the love of his life keeps going off with other men, and nobody seems able to recognise his brilliance. Nigel is his only real friend and the only other person who pays him any real attention is the school bully. His home life isn’t much better as his parents are too busy arguing to notice him. Thankfully, he has his grandmother to provide him with a healthy meal and care for his numerous health issues. But when his parents split up, what will it mean for Adrian’s potential?
I wanted to like this book. I think it had a lot of comic potential thanks to its narcissistic and unreliable narrator. Adrian isn’t exactly a typical teenager but he has that all too familiar self-obsession. Adrian only sees the world as it relates to him and it causes him to paint very unkind views of his family. When his father struggles to pay the bills, Adrian is unsympathetic because, in his mind, his father should spend their money more wisely. The humour derives from his inability to read a situation as it really is and his misunderstandings are funny. At least at first.
The problem with the novel is that it is very one-note. The comedy never quite reaches beyond Adrian’s ego. The jokes are very much the same all the way through and there isn’t exactly a lot of different levels to enjoy. We don’t get an awful lot of emotion beyond indignation either. There is a sojourn in teen angst towards the end but it is all very superficial. I know that he was written as a hyperbolic figure but I feel as though he needed to be a little relatable. Narrators don’t need to be nice but they need to be engaging. Adrian’s shtick gets old very quickly.
Although, I can see how this would be a good book for a younger reader and regret not having read it at a younger age. There is definitely a sense of fun tied up within this novel and it is readable. I’m not always a fan of the diary format for a novel but the entries are brief and to the point. You get little bitesize chunks of silliness so you don’t get too bogged down in anything heavy. The book does touch on the difficult period in British history but, seen through Adrian’s eyes, it has a very different spin here. The unemployment and social difficulties are merely trivial compared to the things Adrian must go through. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a great reflection of what life was like for a teenager in Britain in the early 80s. However, there are bound to be elements to Adrian’s personality that resonate with everybody in some way.