Saturday, February 6, 2010
Adrian Mole - The Prostrate Years
ADRIAN MOLE: THE PROSTRATE YEARS
There can’t be many people who have not heard of Adrian Mole even if they’ve never read his diaries. Bespectacled, intellectual, pompous and out of touch with reality; he’s a venerable British Institution, as famous as Pepys and Pooter.
It’s now twenty five years since Adrian Mole’s first volume of diaries was published. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ brilliantly recorded the minutiae of his life: the trials of pimples and promiscuous parents; falling in love with Pandora. Also major political and social events: Prince Charles’s engagement to Lady Di; Mrs Thatcher and the Falklands. (At the outbreak of the Falkland’s Conflict, Adrian gets out a map and tries to find the islands but they’re concealed under biscuit crumbs…)
Over the years he has successfully published more volumes of diaries and meticulously shared with us failed marriages, single parenthood, the raising of two sons on a sink estate, an addiction to Opal Fruits, his career as a celebrity offal chef, and always his love for Pandora.
In this latest volume – the Prostrate Years – Adrian is thirty-nine and a quarter. Always unworldly about money, he has been declared bankrupt and is forced to return to rural Leicestershire to share a converted piggery with his parents - a couple of such Hogarthian sensibilities it’s difficult not to like them.
Adrian’s current marriage is falling apart when he presents with symptoms of prostate cancer. After the first DRE (digital rectal examination) his doctor remarks on how tense he is:
“If you don’t relax Mr Mole you could trap my finger up your bum forever.”
With dignity Adrian informs him: “Yes I have been described as being an anal retentive before.”
As Adrian begins radiotherapy his discontented wife gets a job; soon she’s having an extramarital affair. So Adrian’s colourful mother steps up to support him through his treatment.
He writes: She told me she had decided to empty the old fashioned sweet jar of the mixed coins she has been collecting for the past three years and take them to the bank. She said: ‘As long as I’ve got enough to bury you...”
His father says: “Do they do prostrate transplants? Cos if they do, you can have mine, kid.”
In spite of the amusing asides, Adrian’s experiences of cancer are not treated lightly. He writes, heartbreakingly, after visit to his specialist:
I told her about my latest symptoms and she nodded and said, ‘Yes, that’s normal,’ and began to go through the various ‘roads we can go down’. I thought, ‘No, it’s not a road we can go down, Dr Rubik, it’s a lonely road that I will be going down alone. You are merely waving to me from the safety of the pavement.’
Sue Townsend, the creator of Adrian Mole, was born in Leicester in 1946. Her father was a postman and she’s the eldest of five sisters. She failed her 11 plus and left school at 15. By the time she was 22 she had three children under the age five. Her early Adrian Mole dairies are reputedly based on her children’s experiences at comprehensive school. This latest volume reflects her struggles with chronic and acute ill health - she suffers from diabetes, is registered blind, and has recently had a kidney transplant. Her son, Sean, donated his kidney for the transplant and the book is dedicated to him and to the Renal team at Leicester General Hospital.
VERDICT: Don’t dismiss Adrian Mole as a comic story played for laughs. This is one of the most unpretentious and heart warming novels I’ve ever read about serious illness.