I have just finished reading the entire Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend. These eight hugely funny books purport to be Adrian’s diaries and correspondence beginning when he is a 13 3/4 year old schoolboy and ending as he reaches forty, a disappointed failure.
This is neither high art nor great literature but is a work of sustained comic genius, following the life of a wannabe literary intellectual against a period of British history that encompasses both Thatcher’s Falkland’s War in the early 1980s, the emergence of Blair’s New Labour in the 1990s, and the involvement of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. While Mole’s thoughts often involve these larger issues, his actual life is lived within the bitter constraints of Tory (and Labour) austerity and the growing inequalities that those policies generated.
He fails at all sorts of jobs (celebrity chef, author, environmental welfare officer, bookseller), grossly fails at consumerism, and invariably gets the wrong girls pregnant. Moreover, his family is the oddest collection of characters since the Gormenghast dynasty, even though their reality is drawn so well that many of us will recognize individuals of the types involved.
I suspect that future historians may use the Mole series to better understand the sociology of England in these decades. In fact, the humour is so interwoven with the intimacies of daily life in the Midlands I wonder whether anyone outside of England (not even, perhaps, the other parts of Britain) will fully grasp the subtleties of the comedy.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the entire series, I would recommend either Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years or Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction.