‘Probably the funniest book of 1993,’ said The Times. ‘It could even make John Major laugh,’ claimed Today. I don’t know if that’s true, but certainly it’s funny. I think it’s the darkest instalment in the series so far, as Adrian has grown into adulthood (he’s nearly 24) and he has more problems than ever. Bereavement, homelessness, depression, career crisis, in addition to the usual unrequited love, poor self-image, money issues and complicated family relationships. It’s a more sophisticated book, as Adrian writes his awful novel, which incorporates whatever’s going on in his life, and then the character in his novel starts to write a novel – and finally the character in that novel does too. It all goes a bit ‘meta’. There is also more of a sense that The Wilderness Years is a novel with a considered ending, rather than simply a diary.
Most of our favourite characters are back – his parents Pauline and George Mole (constantly splitting and getting back together), feisty sister Rosie, horrible pensioner Bert, principled Grandma, bully-turned-literature star Barry Kent and of course Pandora, the love of his life, who prefers the company of real intellectuals. There are some new faces too, such as the alcoholic landlady Mrs Hedge, the dreadfully smooth professor Cavendish, violent restaurant-owner Savage and sweet newsagent girl Bianca, who’s in love with Adrian but he doesn’t believe it. The locations vary between Oxford, London, Leicester, Russia and Greece. As always, current events are referenced, such as the Gulf War, AIDS epidemic (including the death of Freddie Mercury) and the time that Prince William got hit on the head by a golf club. An unintentionally creepy detail is that Adrian (in 1991) was worried that Princess Diana would die… of pneumonia.
I would say that this book is a must-read if you enjoyed the previous books in the series, but be aware that the humour is darker and the content is sometimes desperately sad. It’s a turning point for the series, as the books which follow it are along the same lines.
First published in 1993.