Friday, 11 April 2014

In Memoriam: Sue Townsend

I think this is the first time since I started this blog that an author whose works I knew well has died. I liked the one Frederik Pohl book I'd read, but that didn't seem like enough to really feel like I knew him as an author.

And then I heard that Sue Townsend had died. Far too early, for my liking. And I will miss her greatly. Her Adrian Mole books were some of my staple books growing up, and they're still works I return to when I'm feeling the need for a comfort read. Adrian grew up as I did, and was pretty much still as much as a prat as he always was. I can't say I loved the last entry in that canon, but I did all the rest. Of her other fiction, I'm sorry to say that I've only read The Queen and I.

I knew her only as a reader, and since last night I've been trying to gather my thoughts about what it was about her writing that has consistently appealed to me for over two decades. It's funny, to start. Not gutbustingly funny, but the kind that evokes frequent wry smiles, and winces. It's that kind of British humour where you can see how the main character is about to cock everything up, and then get to watch as he does it. Poor Adrian.

I laughed at Adrian a lot over the years, but always retained an affection for him as a character, despite his asshattery. Townsend had a delicate touch, making us both like Adrian while we also enjoyed how he got himself into trouble, and almost always did the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

The Queen and I is another book I've frequently pulled off my shelf over the years, when I wanted something I knew and knew I would enjoy. The Queen comes out of her travails on a council estate with her dignity intact, which is not really something that can be said for all her family. But as a look at English poverty through the lens of the most privileged family in the country, it always grabs me and affords me a great deal of amusement. And wincing. Always with the wincing.

While we're sort of on the topic of politics, I'd also like to mention how much I've always loved that little bit of a faux diary for Margaret Thatcher that makes up one third of one of the Adrian Mole books. It's so pointed, and even as a fictional young girl, manages to capture a great deal of the crazed attitude to other people.

But what I'm really trying to say is thank you, Sue Townsend, for some of my dearest childhood friends. Thank you for letting them accompany me into adulthood, with no more success or composure than they had ever had.

Maybe it's time for a reread. 

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