Friday, October 1, 2010

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

Cory Doctorow wrote about this series on BoingBoing, and the concept intrigued me. Adrian Mole is aging at the same rate as Cory...and just a bit older than myself. Cory's been reading them since they first came out, and I suspect this book in particular probably appeals to a 13 year old boy far more than it does to me, but I'm still inclined to keep reading even though I didn't find this story quite as compelling as Cory evidently did.

Townsend's gift is to make you choke with laughter and tears at once, to create a nebbishy antihero who is both terrible and lovable, and to torture him mercilessly for our benefit and edification.

This is the sort of comment that I read and think "Yes, this sounds fabulous" and then I start reading and realize that in fact, I don't really like anti-heros, and it bothers me when they are tortured unnecessarily, especially when they are the ones doing the stupid things and not realizing it. But I think that the reason I don't enjoy it might be the same reason that I had trouble enjoying Seinfeld - I hadn't realized that Seinfeld was supposed to be satire (they're charicatures, not characters), and this is supposed to be humor, not torture. We're encouraged to laugh at Adrian when he's being stupid, and to enjoy watching him do the occasional non-stupid thing. I do have a lot of difficulty watching people do stupid things, I find it incredibly irritating, and yet there's a really loveable side to Adrian which mostly you just get to see through other people's reactions to him.

The story is written as his private diary, and he really comes off as insufferable at first. He's a teenage boy and definitely sees himself as the center of the universe, as well as way more intelligent than anyone else out there. He sure doesn't cut his parents any slack initially, but then as the story goes on, you realize that they definitely don't deserve it. He's laughably oblivious to the things going on in their lives, as children should be, but then he's forced to deal with the fact that neither of his parents actually have their lives together yet. His descriptions of his mother's interactions with the next-door-neighbor, Mr. Lucas, as the Lucases are going through their divorce, are totally hilarious because you can see exactly where this whole thing is headed, even though Adrian can't. His parents separation and his mother's descent into total self-indulgence is quite funny, mostly because of everyone else's reactions to it. Even though her behaviour is absolutely atrocious, it very clearly doesn't scar Adrian the way you might imagine if you were reading this story from any viewpoint other than his personal diary.

Adrian joins a club which is supposed to help the elderly for some very selfish reasons of his own, and yet once he gets used to Bert, his assigned person, it becomes clear that Adrian is actually an incredibly caring and unselfish person. He can be very self-aggrandizing when he wants to, and when he thinks it is going to get him attention or praise, but put him in a situation where someone is in need and he is able to help - and he just jumps right in and helps. For me, this was the turning point, once I saw how much Bert obviously liked Adrian, it became clear that Adrian wasn't just a stupid little kid who deserved my scorn...he just liked to think of himself that way.

And then there's Adrian's girlfriend, Pandora. She starts out dating his best friend Nigel (even though Nigel knows that Adrian likes her!), and then some other guy, but finally winds up with Adrian, and actually stays with Adrian for much longer than you might expect, especially considering that he got her deodorant as a Christmas present. The phone bills the two of them manage to rack up are quite hilarious.

On the whole, definitely not the sort of book I usually read, I did enjoy it (once I managed to start liking Adrian rather than just being irritated by him), and I think I might have a slightly easier time with it as Adrian gets older.

No comments:

Post a Comment