Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sue Townsend - A Mole and a human

I was very sad to learn of the death of Sue Townsend.  A self-taught writer, who knew life through hard and good alike, she was a great figure in the literary canon.  Her humour was her strongest asset, and through humour she could be touching or deeply political.  Her novel about the royal family showed her republicanism, but the touching way that she wrote about the Queen showed a humanity that underlay everything that she wrote.  The last novel of hers that I read was The Woman who went to Bed for a Year: a satire on contemporary society, a telling comedy of relations between the sexes, and an apologetic for suburban Britain, and just damned funny.  I remember listening to her on Test Match Special, speaking of her love for cricket, her blindness and her writing.  There was no self-pity, but a warmth that shone through all her trials.

Above all, Sue Townsend was known for Adrian Mole, and I can't be the only one who will mourn Adrian's death as well as Sue Townsend.  When I first encountered Adrian he was 13 ¾.  I was a little younger, but growing into Adrian's world.  I learnt a lot of life skills from Adrian's secret diary (mostly by not doing what Adrian did!) and also laughed a lot.  Adrian re-surfaced in my late twenties, with his take on Blair's Britain.  I learned less, but probably laughed more.  Adrian Mole, through the several volumes of his diaries, is one of the great social and political commentators of the late twentieth century.  Think Tony Benn but funnier.  The compassion with which Sue Townsend wrote Adrian Mole, meant that she was one of the great teachers of sexual politics to adolescent boys of my generation.  Adrian's bad poetry, his fumbling attempts to woo Pandora, his high level of self-consciousness, and his desperate need for love made him funny.  What made him lovable was that he was all of this while dealing with real life problems from his parents extra-marital affairs to caring for his own children. 

Sue Townsend was that admirable and quite wonderful thing - she was human.  I shall miss Adrian Mole, but I am glad to have enjoyed Sue Townsend's work for its sheer humanity.  Adrian once wrote of his early attempts at shaving that he was glad to see a reassuring quantity of stubble around the sink when he finished.  I still think of that as I shave in the morning.  Thank God for Sue Townsend and all she gave us.

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