Adrian Mole is balding, he's bitter, and he's back, this time at age 30. Though he may be older, Sue Townsend's comic creation is certainly no wiser. With his marriage to a Nigerian beauty in tatters, he passes his time dreaming of old flame Pandora Braithwaite, now a shining star in Tony Blair's new government. But underneath the layers of experience and sophistication, fans of the Mole family will find the same dysfunctional mess that made The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 an instant bestseller. This diarist's young son is being brought up by his mother in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, his 16-year-old sister has left home to live with her multiply pierced boyfriend, and his father is bed-bound with manic depression. Adrian himself still makes constant lists of juvenile neuroses, and spends an unhealthy amount of time grading his penile performance (only when he reaches the bleak score of zero out of 10 does he finally take action).
And what of his career? The hero of The Cappuccino Years works at Soho's Hoi Polloi restaurant, rustling up deliberately grubby blue-collar cuisine, from "Heinz tomato soup (with white bread floaters)" to "Boiled cabbage avec Dan Quayle Potatoes." At a certain point, he's spotted by a cable producer and ends up starring in a television show celebrating offal--yes, it's called Offally Good. Yet even Adrian is somewhat perplexed by his culinary gifts:
My mother's family (Norfolk) were practically illiterate, and seemed to live on boiled potatoes with HP sauce, and my father's family (Leicester) viewed books with deep suspicion, unless they had pictures which "broke up the pages." My paternal grandmother, May Mole, was a plain cook, who regarded eating as a gross indulgence. Thank God she died before I became a professional chef. It was her proud boast that she had never eaten in a proper restaurant in her life. She spoke of restaurants as others speak of crack dens. As the above should make clear, Townsend's acerbic (and very English) wit is still much in evidence. Occasionally she'll go to corny lengths for a joke: "I arrived at the Brent Cross shopping centre car-park, to find that my car had been towed away five days ago and was in a police compound somewhere in Purley. A £25 cab ride took me to the Purley gates." True Mole fanatics, however, will forgive Townsend her infrequent excesses. Accessible, amusing, and appealing, The Cappuccino Years reflects an Adrian who has tolerated the growing pains and survived the lost years. Now he's ready to face the only really important question: Is it cheating to use Viagra? --Lucie Naylor