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Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years is the fourth entry in the Adrian Mole series written by Sue Townsend and was originally published in 1993. It begins in the year 1991 and our nerdy hero is now 23 years old. Adrian is working for the Environment Department as a 'Newt' specialist and finds his job absolutely tedious. He also hates Newts. He shares a flat with Pandora in Oxford but the presence of her boyfriend Jack Cavandish, numerous lovers, and her general air of superiority mean that he is no closer to winning her heart. "I have suffered daily humiliations," writes Adrian. "I will reap the benefits later when she is the proud mother of our six children and I am a famous author." When he writes some poetry for Pandora she explains that she will call the police if he ever presents her with such filth again and suggests a psychiatrist!
Meanwhile, Adrian's mother is now married to a much younger man, and, having taken Pandora's flippant advice literally, Mole finds himself smitten with psychiatrist Leonora, although he can barely afford the sessions...
Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years is probably the least substantial of the Mole books and seems like more of a stopgap than the other entries in the series. It runs to under 200 pages and doesn't take very long at all to read. It is though fun in the spirit of the other books with the usual funny lines and situations.
The style of the book is more in the vein of the first two Mole books rather than later entries where Townsend adopted more of a modern novel approach with diary entries almost becoming mini chapters. In this book the shortish, traditional diary format is still adhered to. It does make the book seem a little jarring at times though to have Mole heading towards his mid twenties and still writing a diary like a thirteen year old boy with rubbish poems and little lists. I think Townsend realised this herself and changed the style of the books to make them seem a bit more adult when she brought the character back next time around.
'The Wilderness Years' does not quite work for me when Adrian wheels out a chapter of his comically hopeless novel at various points. Before this worked as a spoof of teenage pretension but it seems slightly out of place here. Another criticism I could make is that the first two books seemed to to be reasonably realistic. You really did believe that Adrian Mole was a real thirteen year old boy living an ordinary working-class life in a semi with his parents and struggling with life at a comprehensive school. It was something many of us could relate to. The Wilderness Years does seem a bit contrived in comparison sometimes. For example, Adrian books a holiday and asks the travel agent to decide where according to his budget. He ends up in Russia and so we get several entries relating to his comical visit there. It's fairly obvious that Townsend must have visited Russia herself and just wanted to write about it a bit.
Much better is Adrian's relationship with Bianca, a would be engineer working in a newsagents. Townsend likes to have this Mole character trait where he struggles to read people or is the last person to realise something. Adrian and Bianca become friends through Adrian's visits to the newsagents and she drops about two million hints that she would like to go out with him. It takes him forever to cotton onto this and while it's a bit annoying it's also quite endearing. Townsend is very good at presenting a hum-drum working class world of lonely people trapped in dead end jobs while they day dream for something to happen.
Adrian's dad meanwhile has a posh new girlfriend called Belinda Bellingham who runs a burglar alarm business and remains the funniest character in the book. "Tell them what they want to hear son," he advises Adrian on women. "And buy them a bunch of flowers every fortnight. That's all there is to it."
There are of course welcome returns for several characters that fans of the first books will be familiar with. Adrian's wonderful grandmother is still alive as is the grumpy pensioner Bert Baxter. Baz Kent, the school bully from the original books is now a rising literary sensation and poet, a turn of events that causes Adrian much disgust and envy. "He has the prose style of a Daily Sport leader writer," rants Adrian. " He wouldn't know what a semi-colon was if it fell into his beer. The little I read of Dork's Diary forced me to the conclusion that he should be arrested and charged with criminal assault on the English language."
Kent is hanging about with Jeannette Winterston and being interviewed in the broadsheets. Townsend's point seems to be that the luvvies love the foul mouthed Kent because he's a class stereotype. They have no real in interest in Adrian because he doesn't conform to his upbringing and background in his attitude and general speech and behaviour. Mole, a nerd increasingly out of time already at the tender age of 23, finds himself being compared to John Major! Townsend though obviously has a lot of fondness for her creation and sets up the next book in a pleasant manner with one or two plot twists and events.
Another sub-plot with repercussions for further books in the series involves Sharon Bott, former schoolfriend of Mole and Barry Kent. Bott, now hopelessly overweight and a single mother with countless children, believes that only Adrian or Kent can be the father of her latest child. Mole is understandably worried that a teenage fumble with a then svelte Bott might have rebounded on him.
As usual real events of the era feature in the diary to give it a sense of time. The first Gulf War, John Major, David Icke and his conspiracy theories, Robert maxwell falling overboard etc. Mole's knack for never making an accurate prediction again features in the book.
Overall, this is a must read for any Mole fan but probably not quite essential for the general reader. You'll get more out of it if you've read the first two books and go on to read the later entries. The first two Mole books are modern classics so it's unfair to compare other entries too much perhaps. But I do think the later books worked better than this one as a stand alone read. It struggles a little bit to move Adrian forward into adulthood but just about does so by the end to serve as a springboard to better and longer books.
It's still fun though.