Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, The

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9780060955403: Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, The

Meet thirteen-year-old Thomas Penman. Growing up in a bizarre household of eccentrics, including a mother and father who wage a silent war against each other. Thomas downs his first drink, smokes his first cigarette, pursues the beautiful Gwendolin Hackett--all the while forming a special bond with his beloved, ailing Grandpa Walker, a World War II veteran prone to dark habits. An obsessive snooper, Thomas undertakes a quest to locate his grandfather's legendary pornography collection, setting in motion a series of misadventures that ultimately leads him to uncover secrets about his life that will change him irrevocably. The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman is a hilarious, engaging, and touching debut novel, a brilliant tale of one British working-class teen's unforgettable coming of age.

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Review:

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman is the author's fascination with every form of bodily excretion. Feces, sputum, semen, earwax--the list is endless. We discover early on that Thomas "from the age of four ... navigated all lavatories and shat himself everywhere else," and the pages that follow detail the boy's obsession with his own fecal matter in terms that are as imaginative as they are repugnant. Having established from the get-go that young Thomas Penman is not going to be an ordinary hero, Bruce Robinson (who wrote the screenplays for the films The Killing Fields and Withnail & I, and also directed the latter) then launches us into his protagonist's life with a vengeance. In short order we discover that Thomas's grandfather, Walter, is riddled with cancer and as obsessed with naked women as his 14-year-old grandson. In addition, Thomas's father, Rob, is involved in an illicit affair and his mother has hired a private detective to prove it. And Thomas himself is madly, truly, deeply in love with the divine Gwen Hackett.

Pornography, masturbation, voyeurism--according to Robinson, these are the main preoccupations of the adolescent boy. This book is being compared to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and who's to say that Holden Caulfield might not have had similar hobbies had he been written 40 years later? If you can get past the raunchiness of the language and the situations, Thomas makes an unexpectedly sympathetic hero, and his relationship with his half-mad grandfather is oddly tender. The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman is not for the faint of stomach, but for those who like their fiction raw, this one fits the bill. --Alix Wilber

About the Author:

Bruce Robinson is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of The Killing Fields and starred in the 1998 film Still Crazy. He wrote and directed the black comedy cult classic Withnail and I. He lives in London, England.

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