By Stuart Thomas
Their characters may not be popular at school, but in the literary world their journals certainly are. But the similarity between Adrian Mole and “Spud” Milton ends there.
Perhaps it is better to state what differentiates them. Well, for one thing, there is the issue of what each calls their attempts at writing. Mole’s is explicitly a secret diary while Spud is often at pains to explain that he writes a journal (seeing as diaries are for girls). Also, Mole is a year and three quarters older than Spud when he begins diarising. Spud is also far more successful with the ladies than Mole is, though he would argue otherwise.
Their surroundings could not be more different. Mole inhabits the perfectly ordinary middle-class world of Leicester and Spud, though of the same class, comes from Durban at a time when middle-class was far from normal. However, the distance between settled Thatcher England, in which we first meet Mole, and South Africa, slowly emerging from the perils of apartheid, seems difficult to comprehend.
It is through their obvious contrast of setting that the two novels reveal major thematic differences. Spud is set in a time of fear and the hope of reconciliation during apartheid South Africa, while The Secret Diary ofAdrian Mole focuses on the sense of futility that was felt by many British youths in the 1980s.
It seems safe to say that both series’ protagonists are products of their respected times. Mole believes himself to be an intellectual but, much like Britain, ends up caught in a slump of mediocrity. Spud, by comparison, enters his elite Natal Midlands school on a scholarship and, although insecure – no doubt owing to his late entry to puberty- continues to excel in most fields.
Spud and The Secret Diary… series have in common is that they act as the voice of a generation sticking to topical issues such as life, love and school – something most people can relate to. Despite their various differences, both series are great if you’re in need of an escape and humour that will have you in stitches.