Last month I happened to read The Diary of a Nobody, which is a comic novel written as the diary notes of an average middle-class officer in Victorian London. I never thought that I would be embarking on another British book with a similar theme so soon. Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, written by Sue Townsend, is the sixth book in the series featuring Adrian Mole as the protagonist. I never read any other entries in the series and selected this one solely based on its name.
The year is 2002. Adrian Mole bought a new home while his parents sold theirs and moved to a pigsty with plans to convert it into a dwelling. He is working in the secondhand bookstore of the kindly Mr. Carlton-Hayes. His work on the new book is not working out well; he is slowly falling out of love with his manipulative and needy fiancee Mayflower, simultaneously starting an affair with her sister Daisy, and all the while getting himself submerged in the debt trap, performing a financial harakiri. He believes that Tony Blair cannot go wrong in his statements about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and will eventually locate them and prevent an impending war in Iraq, where his son Glenn is stationed on war duty.
The book is a hilarious take on the events in the UK when the government decides to follow the US on an invasion of Iraq, citing the presence of WMD, and is seen through the eyes of an average British man struggling to keep his life together. What strikes me about the character of Adrian Mole is his naivety, due to which he is manipulated and pushed over by everyone. The whole book is narrated from his viewpoint, through his diary entries and his incredible and unintentionally offensive letters to several celebrities. We, as readers, become totally aware of his misreading of every situation that he is involved with. Many times, it provides the reader with the guilty fascination of watching a video of a blind man walking unawares towards a gutter.
Metaphorically, the plight of Adrian Mole can be seen as that of the public in the UK during the Iraq situation. Manipulated through deceit and misinformation by its stronger 'ally' into a situation that could only cause more difficulties during the already dire financial troubles, they blindly bumbled into a Quixotic conflict with demons that existed only in their imagination. It is the subplot that involves his son and his friend performing guard duty in a war-torn Iraq that wrenches the heart of the reader and provides the emotional backbone to a plot that borders on absurd humour most of the time.
The book is populated by the most interesting and colourful characters that I have read about in recent times. Nigel, the friend of Adrian, who becomes blind due to diabetes, is inspired by the author's own plight, where she became partially blind and had to take her husband's help to write the book. My favourite character other than Adrian is his initial lover and fiancee, Mayflower, who manipulates him into an engagement even after he makes it clear of his disinterest in her. Adrian's more practical friends and his eccentric parents are also great characters who make the novel absorbing.
After reading this novel, I feel that the protagonist buying a house is a great way to start a story. It begins with a definite change in routine, a strangeness in situations, and a slight alienation that can be exploited to add drama and create an expected versus reality situation. Along with The Diary of a Nobody, I saw this device in the novel About People by Juli Zeh too. In this novel, buying a new house begins the financial unwinding of Adrian Mole and most of his misfortunes.
But through my reveals of the plot points, please don't estimate that this is a dreary and depressing tale. On the contrary, the novel Adrian Mole and The Weapons of Mass Destruction has its moments of feel-good joy and enough warmth and empathy to make it a delightful comedy.