I’ve just finished Sue Townsend’s wonderful novel, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year. Townsend echoes my own leanings as a novelist: she writes about contemporary Britain; she writes about the tragedy and comedy inherent in every day life; her characters are real, defy all cliché and continue to live with you when you step away from the page. You love them and you want to be with them, even if you can’t stand them – much like your family.
I have only read one of Townsend’s Adrian Mole novels, the first in the series, which I picked up aged 12 in the Junior Library at Headington Girls School in Oxford, where I grew up. Before reading Adrian Mole, I never realised you were allowed to write things that were so funny or so irreverent or to reveal what lay behind the social niceties of a middle class existence. Adrian wrote what I thought, albeit it in a slightly boyish way. Parts of me, I’ll admit, are a little more like Pandora…
Since then, I’ve known that Sue Townsend has continued to charm and entertain, that she’s become a national treasure and that despite suffering from the affliction that I fear most, blindness, she’s kept writing. But it’s taken me a while to pick up another one of her novels – too much to read, not enough time, all those foolish excuses. However, when I saw this title, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, I knew I’d love it, just as I knew I’d love The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of His Window and Disappeared. Titles are important, especially those that hold within them a gem of the story to come, that set the tone, that invite the reader in.
At the back of the novel, Sue Townsend is interviewed about Adrian Mole and she says, ‘There are still Mole Types everywhere, watching the absurdities of life from the sidelines.’ I think she means writers, because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We stand a little apart from the spinning world and as we watch, we allow ourselves to be amused and moved and made to cry at life’s absurdities – and then when weave these into our fiction. ‘Watching the absurdities of life from the sidelines’ pretty much sums up my job as a writer.