Townsend, Sue: Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction

patriot2“But the truth was, dear diary, I remembered Animal Farm as being a book simply about animals on a farm”

No, the Monthly Book Group had not met to give their informed criticism of George Orwell’s classic; rather the book was “Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the quote in question came from Adrian himself attending the Leicester and Rutland Creative Writing Group (aka Readers’ Club) in the bookshop run by Mr Calton-Hayes. Although arguably missing the metaphor in Animal Farm, the LRCWG did spot the resemblance between Tony Blair and Jane Eyre, showing Charlotte Bronte to be well ahead of her time.

The proposer gave a short summary of Sue Townsend’s eventful life from 1946 to 2014, a bestselling novelist since 1982 when she commenced her Adrian Mole series. She had left school at 15 years of age, married at 18, a single parent at 23 with three children. Previous to her writing career, she had experienced several low-paid jobs in her native Leicester and this experience shone through in her writing. She was also an award-winning playwright and had amassed several other honorary degrees and prizes.

Discussing the book, the attendees had all enjoyed it, most reading it for the first time. It was ‘laugh out loud’ funny with a cast of British eccentrics, a number of running plots and gags, most notably the deployment of Adrian’s son Glenn and mate Robbie to Iraq to deal with the WMD, and Adrian’s (Kipling’s) amorous adventures with Pandora (continued), Marigold and Daisy (French Fancy) Flowers. (Yes, really, the other sister is Poppy.) One of us commented on feeling pathos; at how poor AM couldn’t get on whereas Pandora sailed through all her exams. Another seemed to identify with Adrian’s experience of credit cards, as he opened one after another to pay for the one before, commenting on the early 2000s financial irresponsibility and willingness of banks to back a bad risk. Of course this book was written in 2004, but we suspect Sue T. had a good idea of what was coming later in the decade. 

Another running gag deals with Adrian’s letters to Latesun Ltd., asking Mr. Blair to confirm the existence of WMD so AM could recover his £57.10 Cyprus holiday deposit. As the book progresses Adrian mirrors the British public in questioning the validity of the Iragi invasion. Alas, Mr. Blair never writes to confirm that the WMD are targeted at Cyprus. The group wondered at Adrian’s naivety (playing the ‘daft laddie’) in writing to Blair, Beckham, Jordan, Arsene Wenger, Tim Henman et al. to offer advice. Well, Tim, you never did win Wimbledon. You should have listened.  Some celebrities seemed to be less than keen to contribute to AMs forthcoming book on ‘Celebrity and Madness’.

What is enduring in life? Taking the series as a whole, one reader was unhappy that Adrian’s character doesn’t develop, and he is still naive at 35. This isn’t plausible. Overall, the group felt that ST had captured the early 2000s mood in Adrian’s aspirations to better himself, notably in renting the less than exclusive property in Rat Wharf. (The clue is in the name.) Equally, he bought all sorts of unnecessary and overpriced accoutrements to improve the decor. One unwelcome neighbour at Rat Wharf was the aggressive Gielgud the Swan; this led to some classic comedy of misunderstanding with the Council’s Neighbourhood Conflict Unit as a series of letters were exchanged about AMs troublesome neighbour, Mr. Swan.

Fairly early in the evening, however, the conversation veered from the book itself towards the elephant in the room that was the existence or not of the weapons of mass destruction. Some asserted that it was obvious at the time that such didn’t exist. Was the Iraq invasion a cynical attempt to protect oil reserves, a reaction to the Twin Towers attacks, or an example of US cowboy culture? To what extent were the public wise after the event?  There was much discussion about the merits of the democratic process and the truism that it cannot be imposed but has to evolve from within. There was ensuing debate about the role of women in UK and world politics and society, science and religions, and to what extent aggression is a male trait. Where is Charlotte Bronte when you need a Middle East Envoy? Somehow we revisited Dresden in the Second World War; was this truly a war crime? We diverted and digressed and talked of the parliamentary and committee systems. Do MPs work hard? Are they paid enough? (Historical note: this preceded the revelations about Rifkind and Straw in February 2015.). These notes are not coherent; neither was the discussion!

At the end, we returned to the book. We loved some of Sue’s turns of phrase; we laughed, we cried. She captured the gradual realisation that the pretext for invasion was wrong. Who was the targeted audience? We felt that it appeals to any age and demographic. We talked of the advantages of the diary format that allows inconsistency, showing how public opinion is influenced by the popular press and politicians. Nevertheless, after the humour and pathos, the book ends on a serious note.

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride…
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
(Siegfried Sassoon, Survivors)

 Finally, Adrian thinks to write an autobiography. Happy people don’t keep a diary.