Sue Townsend proves yet again that she is one of the funniest novelists writing today. The latest installment in the Adrian Mole series sees our protagonist nearing the age of 40, living with his wife and daughter, and suffering not only from his ever-dysfunctional familiy, but also from prostate cancer. Despite the awfulness of his disease - which Townsend in no way plays down - the book is still laugh-out-loud funny throughout. I can't think of any other writer who combines heart-wrenching pathos with genuine humour so effectively. Somehow, the sadness makes the funny bits funnier, and the humour makes the tragedy all the more painfully real to the reader.
Adrian is still very much the same person as the teenager Townsend first introduced many years ago. Many of the other old favourite characters are there too - older, but not necessarily wiser. There is Pandora, Labour MP and still the secret love of Adrian's life; his parents, George and Pauline, now elderly but still keen to appear on the Jeremy Kyle show; Adrian's unlikely best friend Nigel - gay, blind, living with his guide dog and civil partner; and of course Glenn, Adrian's eldest son, currently fighting in Afghanistan. Others, however, are notable by their absence; the Braithwaite parents and Barry Kent don't get more than a mention.
There are plenty of the usual satirical side-swipes at modern society which make you both laugh and wince. Townsend cleverly incorporates many of the newsworthy events from 2007 and 2008 without it ever seeming forced - from the collapse of Icesave and Woolworths to MP's expenses and post office closures. Townsend has a gift for capturing the spirit of an age and using real-life events in her books in a realistic way. If you read Sebastian Faulks' 'A Week In December' - a novel set in a similar time frame - you will admire Townsend all the more for her skill in writing about everyday life in the 21st century. Faulks may be a serious-literary-heavyweight type but Townsend outperforms him effortlessly in this genre.
I read this book in the space of a weekend, hardly able to put it down, and was left wishing it was longer. Quite probably the best thing I've read all year. Definitely one to add to the Christmas list!