The peculiar memories of Thomas Penman
"Thomas Penman is the acclaimed autobiographical debut novel by Oscar-winning screenwriter Bruce Robinson, the author of "Withnail and I". This is the story of a dysfunctional family. It is about a boy and his grandpa, life and death, sex and hate, dog's meat and cancer. It is also about pornography, enemas, Morse codes, puberty, secrets, God and loathing. It is also about love."
Bruce Robinson is the filmmaker responsible for two of my favourite films Withnail & I and How to get ahead in advertising, you would think therefore that his novel would mean instantaneous glee for me. However, upon purchasing The peculiar memories of Thomas Penman I placed it at the bottom of my “to read” pile, where it lay forgotten for four years. I have now read the book and regret terribly my actions because it is a fantastic read.
The story centres around Thomas Penman, a boy obsessed with finding the key to a locked filing cabinet containing his dying Grandfather’s pornography collection.
The characters are imaginative and the situations Thomas finds himself in are unique and brilliantly portrayed. What other book contains a scene where the main character finds photographs of his grandfather posing nude with a woman who has a live duck shoved up her arse?
The style is what you would expect of Bruce Robinson from his film work. Witty and well written with comic characters showing more than a hint of darkness about them. I was reminded at times of The Wasp Factory, and though the book never matches it in terms of darkness it always seems like it’s not far from doing so.
In essence it is a simply coming of age tale and certain plot points could read as clichéd, Robinson is able however to avoid cliché by warping these tropes almost beyond recognition. It is only when looked at in hindsight that you can see these scenes shine through.
I must also mention the ending. I won’t spoil it but I must say that it possibly the most heartbreaking ending to a story I have ever read and is the closest I have ever come to crying at a book.
I simply couldn’t recommend this enough, it is a great book, one I can see becoming an instant favourite of many who will pick it up, a novel few are likely to forget.
I have avoided mentioning anything about book design in these reviews for the simple fact that, were you to pick any of these books up, chances are they will have a different cover that the one I have read. I must say however the cover photograph for this book, taken by Matt Harris is one of the most arresting book jackets I have ever seen. It is a beautiful photograph and as I lay the book around my house, I was always surprised to find Thomas’ eyes staring back at me. The fact that there is no text on the cover emphasises this, it is just the boy, staring. I love it.