Sue Townsend: Adrian Mole and the weapons of mass destruction

By Frances Grant, Reviewed by Frances Grant

He may have reached the ripe old age of 34 and 3/4, but diarist Adrian Mole, who first burst into print seven books ago as a pimply teenager, remains as naive, self-righteous and prattish as ever.

This latest in the Mole series finds our anti-hero an ardent fan of Prime Minister Tony Blair and embracing the mores of Cool Britannia with an enthusiasm far out-pacing his income. Unfortunately, the credit card companies are only too happy to finance his status anxiety to a spectacular level of indebtedness.

The unwitting Mole is the vehicle for Townsend's political and social satire of Britain's role in the Iraq War and a culture driven by excessive consumption. At times the jokes and irony are heavy-handed - particularly in the beginning of the book with Mole depicted as the simpleton conservative beguiled by Blair's charm - and yes, it's easy enough to have a go with the benefit of hindsight.

But as he gets bogged down in his pursuit of a 'groovy' lifestyle, elusive literary ambitions and flailing attempts to defend his hero, Blair, the diary offers genuinely funny and touching moments.

The book opens with Mole demanding a refund for a planned holiday to Cyprus after Blair's assertion that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction capable of reaching that part of the world and able to be deployed in 45 minutes.

He has moved into a 'fabulous' canalside loft apartment in a part of town favoured by rats and swans of a vicious nature. One of the running gags is his intimidation by a gangsta swan named Gielgud, after its resemblance to the great British actor.

He's still obsessed with Pandora Braithwaite, now a junior cabinet minister and as disdainful of him as ever. His personal life is a disaster zone after falling into the clutches of one Marigold, who's a manipulative maker of doll's houses, with a family specialising in New Age denial and joylessness.

One of the book's chief delights is the wry humanity of Mole's employer, the wise old antiquarian book-seller Mr Carlton-Hayes. And the supporting cast - Mole's best mate Nigel, who is going blind, and son Glenn, who ends up terrified, patrolling the streets of Basra - add a moving, at times painful, dimension to the humour.

By the time he's 35, Mole is still pompous, mean-spirited and self-deluded, yet somehow likeable. But with his hero in trouble, his son in fear for his life and a real relationship on the horizon, he's in terrible danger of growing up.

* Frances Grant is a Herald journalist.

* Penguin, $35

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