I’ve just finished reading Dear Lupin having heard extracts read out on BBC Radio 4. I loved the reference to Pooter from the classic Diary of a Nobody and had to get hold of my own copy. I consumed it quickly, drawn into the claustrophobic world of Roger Mortimer and touched to the core by his love, forgiveness and constancy for his wayward, hapless son, Charlie.
This is a world of the British upper class (definitely not the middle class as both Charlie and his father insist). Names are dropped that you wonder about: is that the famous Hislops? The circles that the Mortimers move in are full of gin-drinking, hunting, antique-dealing, banking, posh toff divorcees and Brigadiers and heiresses. Theirs is a closed world of public school, Oxbridge, the Turf Club and drink driving.
This is a story, a real life account, of a father-son relationship. The book is made up of a series of letters written by Roger Mortimer (a POW after capture at Dunkirk and racing correspondent for the Sunday Times) to his son Charlie, whose addiction to booze, drugs and shifty living continually exasperates him.
Mortimer comes from the generation of stiff-upper lip that this class of Brits is renowned for, a man who should not be able to express his emotions for his son, to his son. A son who has endured Eton and a brief stint in the army. A son who is decidedly anti-establishment, lurching from one odd-job to another, from one stint in hospital to another. But these letters, written regularly and persistently over thirty odd years, demonstrate this father’s steadfast love for his son with wit, self-deprecation and a gritty determination. To have all this recorded in print is precious. And, looking back at these letters that miraculously survived across continents and London boroughs, Charlie knows it. This book is a testament to that.
Sue Townsend’s best-selling novel, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4, was published 30 years ago which makes Adrian Mole exactly the same age as me. I have read each and every diary of his, and laughed and winced along the way, always thankful I did not have his parents or live in Ashby-de-la-Zouch (not that I’ve ever been there so am open to be persuaded otherwise).
As a failed diarist myself, I am envious of those who have managed this consistent task. How else can memories be preserved so precisely – not just the when and wheres but the feelings and emotions and dreams? Samuel Pepys and Ann Frank’s diaries are at the same time intimately personal and important social commentary. They personalise history.
It’s not just these real-life accounts. Fictional diaries offer another truth of the times in which they were written. Adrian Mole passes through the eighties, nineties and noughties and we hear of his life set against the backdrop of cultural, economic and social changes. He is the ultimate unreliable narrator but we, the reader, can see the reality of this fiction – thanks to Sue Townsend’s great skill as a writer.
Other favourite fictional diaries include: The Diary of a Nobody by George Grosssmith and Weedon Grosssmith, Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, Any Human Heart by William Boyd, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney