The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman

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9780879519148: The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
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A brilliant coming-of-age novel set in England of the 1950s.

Thomas Penman is enduring a very bad adolescence. Growing up in dark, dingy 1950s England, Thomas has problems. These include an unspeakable personal hygiene issue, an eccentric, ailing grandfather who speaks to him in Morse Code, an unrequited passion for the lovely Gwen Hackett, and an incriminatingly large stash of pornography. To cap it all, his warring parents are having him followed by a private investigator. It's hard to believe that things could get much worse for him, but, in fact, they are about to...

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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 has written and directed many films, including the cult classic Withnail and I and the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp. He has worked with Franco Zeffirelli, Ken Russell, and Francois Truffaut.

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