In 1999, Sue Townsend’s latest slice of Mole pie, Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, was the first book I got as soon as it came out, in hardback, even though it cost over a week’s wages from my little Saturday job. It was such a titter-free mess of a book that I didn’t buy another first edition of any book for most of the next decade, and didn’t bother reading the 2004 follow-up, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, until years after it was published and I found a cheap paperback copy somewhere.
Of course, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction turned out to be possibly the pinnacle of the whole Mole saga, a righteously furious satire that released Townsend’s wrath upon the Iraq War via the story of a hapless guy (our Adrian) with a son in the army who believed Tony Blair’s every word. It was the perfect counterpoint to the Blairite triumphalism of The Cappuccino Years, and involving as it did Adrian finally attaining some degree of self-awareness, it felt like a fitting end to his story.
So I put off reading Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years until well into its paperback days too, because I knew it wouldn’t (couldn’t) compare. And it doesn’t, not to The Weapons of Mass Destruction, though fortunately it’s far from the schadenfreude fest against an increasingly Job-like Adrian that The Cappuccino Years ended up being.
Adrian is now on the cusp of 40, living next door to his parents (in a converted pigsty), watching his second wife Daisy getting fat, and finding his sleep increasingly disturbed by frequent nocturnal trips to the lavatory. Yes, Townsend has given Adrian prostate cancer. Up until it’s diagnosed the book is the usual catalogue of disasters that Townsend has used in all of the post-adolescent Mole diaries – his parents running amok, his relationship crumbling, etc, etc. Those tropes were worn out by the time The Cappuccino Years was written.
But when he gets his diagnosis the story shifts tack. Just as he’s finally given a good reason to be so self-pitying, Adrian discovers some hitherto unknown well of positivity. Against a backdrop of everything else falling apart (from Northern Rock to his siblings’ lives), Adrian turns out to be something of a trooper after all.
His teenage sweetheart Pandora is given more to do than in the last two books, and has ceased to be the caricature Townsend let her become. Adrian’s younger half-brother Brett, who was introduced to be Adrian’s antithesis (educated, successful, rich and lucky in love), loses everything in the credit crunch, and slowly the comparisons with Adrian swing in the older brother’s favour.
Townsend doesn’t cure her boy’s cancer by the end of the book, but it’s probably safe to assume he survives, if only because the surprise news on the penultimate page seems setting up for an inevitable continuation. Who knows, I might even be tempted to buy that one in hardback.