I have one vivid memory of reading Adrian Mole, who was older than me by perhaps a couple of years. When I was at school in Reading in the early 1980s we had no sports pitches of our own and had to walk about a mile to nearby Prospect Park. On one of those trips, another boy and I walked laong reading passages of the first Adrian Mole diary to one another, each laughing hysterically at Mole's hapless misadventures.
Books could be funny!! Who knew? Not my 12-year-old self. And they could be subversive! I was in love with Pandora, in admiration of Nigel, terrified of Barry Kent and pitying of poor Adrian - always hoping he was about to succeed and achieve (get his hand inside Pandora's bra). I was smitten from the very first page, and each subsequent volume was received gleefully.
I read the last volume, The Prostrate Years, a couple of years back and enjoyed it every bit as much. By this time I had been living near Leicester, Adrian's home town, for about a decade, and felt an even closer kinship with him. The denouement of that book - the arrival of Pandora, Adrian walking towards her - felt like a final finale, and now with Townsend's passing, it seems so. It's a great ending, leaving me to imagine Adrian finally finding love and happiness with his long-time sweetheart, but it also leaves me feeling an unexpected sense of sadness that he's gone from our lives forever.
The beauty of Adrian Mole - as a teenager - was that he gave voice to every teenage boy's every neurosis and a reference point that however worried one might be about problem x, it wasn't as bad as whatever Adrian was dealing with. The great appeal of Adrian then was his eternal optimism, that whatever befell him, he could pick himself up and start again, focusing on the next dream.
In addition, and this came a lot later, the Mole diaries were packed full of acute social commentary. While Sue Townsend was far too clever to ram her views down her readers' throats, they were also there, cleverly woven into the fabric of the books. If you were inclined to see it, it was there for you, if you preferred simply to stick to the comedy of Adrian and his anarchic, disfunctional family, it wasn't difficult.
Adrian Mole was had a profound impact on my early reading life and I regard Townsend as a comic genius with a gift for drawing people in all their glorious absurdity. She leaves behind a pithy, witty chronicle of the last three decades and will be much missed.