The more cynical among us cringe when we hear the word In Sue Townsend’s latest addition to the phenomenally popular Adrian Mole series, Adrian is convinced that he is right — it’s prostrate cancer he hadas, not prostate cancer. But then Adrian has always been convinced that he is right, hasn’t he? And ever since The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 & 3/4s, I’ve loved him for it.
In Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years, Adrian is almost 40. He’s much too young for prostate cancer, he’s certain of that. So he suffers all the symptoms in silence, much as he suffers the difficulties of living in a converted piggery alongside his loud and obnoxious parents (his mother is writing a memoir that’s complete fiction entitled A Girl Called Shit), much as he suffers knowing his wife is depressed and miserable with him (she’s likened to a hot house orchid who’s been transplanted into a pigsty), much as he suffers his daughter’s quirks that cause her to be sent home from school increasingly frequently (she’s a mermaid and can’t walk on land, she must be carried to each class). And that’s just what’s so great about Adrian — everything is such an agony, he is such a tortured soul that we laugh at him because no matter how bad our lives are, at least they aren’t as bad as Adrian’s.
Within the usual madness of the Mole household (one that Aidy fans have been witness to for so many years), Townsend decides to introduce a sudden, frightening character — one that is far too real and powerful to be laughed off — cancer. Suddenly things are far more real than before – but because this is Adrian and because this is Sue Townsend, the laughs keep on coming. There may never be anything as funny as the original book, but this is something of a return to form after several installments. Never before has Adrian faced such difficulties or, for that matter, dealt with them with surprising grace.
The Adrian-verse is always very contemporary — it is, after all, a social commentary on our times, and always has been. In The Prostrate Years Townsend brings up political correctness in nursery schools, reality shows with paternity tests, gay marriages, Blair leaving office, the NHS and of course, questions about the war in Afghanistan. Adrian’s elder son Glen is a soldier in Afghanistan, and his phone calls home are pure Townsend gems: he asks his father each and every time why he’s in Afghanistan, what it is that they’re fighting for and how can he tell the terrorists apart from the innocent Afghans — all this of course is Townsend’s own thinly-veiled opinion about the war itself. But of course this is a smart book: look at all those books Adrian has written, unpublished or not — how can his diaries be anything but smart?
Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years is warm and funny and sad and honest. It’s an open look at living with, and treating a fatal disease, and it reminds us that no matter what, life will go on. So what if Adrian has prostate cancer? His wife may still be having an affair, his mother may finally admit that her children may be have been fathered by someone else and Adrian is still an idiot, we love him more for it.