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The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  878 ratings  ·  109 reviews
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 ha ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 8th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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Melki
Maurice threw another log on and a mass of brilliant sparks leapt in the air like burning confetti.

'You know what I'd like now?' he said, without taking his eyes off the fire. 'A pot of tea on top of that and a shag.'

Thomas agreed.

'Do you realize it can take up to a year of constant shagging for a girl to achieve orgasm?'

He didn't, but went along with the prognosis. After all, Maurice had had an experience in the park.


Here we examine the days and nights of young Thomas Penman as he ages from t
...more
MJ Nicholls
This debut (and only) novel from the actor and screenwriter begins as a scatological black comedy, the titular Thomas a tortured figure unable to stay his bowels in class and relentless in pursuit of his dying grandfather’s porn stash. As the book meanders along the tone of smirking nihilism adapts to encompass Thomas’s compassion for his grandfather and acquires a bulbously implausible first-love story of unapologetic purpleness, alongside the stuff about strapping rockets to crabs and launchin ...more
Antonomasia
It's three months (gulp!) since I read this. I thought I'd made a lot of notes but the Word document "penman" turned out only to contain four lines of writing. It was reading Edward St. Aubyn's Never Mind that brought me back: both are mostly-autobiographical novels written in the 1990's by gifted male authors with past addictions, taking on their own abusive childhoods - bringing excellent writing to a subject usually left for lowbrow "misery memoirs".

Never Mind is somewhat the better literar
...more
Corey
I knew Robinson as the director of two eccentric and wonderful British comedies, "How to Get Ahead in Advertising" and "Withnail and I." So I expected this novel to be funny. But I didn't expect it to be so deep down good and so beautifully written. I found myself copying out whole lines just for their cleverness or their music. And I laughed out loud a lot, even when I was by myself.
Trixie Fontaine
I picked this up because the sleeve described a kid obsessed with gaining access to his grandpa's porn collection; I'm fascinated by personal porn collections and what happens to them so . . . perfect, there.

I'm glad I didn't stop reading it; at first I was confused and it made me kind of uncomfortable, reminding me of a British miniseries I watched on PBS late at night once when I was a kid because it had tits and ass and now all these years later I still remember a scene with a sick old man in
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Rebecca
What an odd book. Given it's a teenage boy's coming of age story, there's a lot of graphic writing about sex and bodily functions. Sometimes it works and ties the story together, sometimes it seems overdone and intrusive. It was an interesting novel, but not something I would read again or heartily recommend.
Mister Chris
This is one of the most amusing, touching and disgusting books I've ever read.

Bruce Robinson's prose is effervescent and lightning-fast, complimented by an inspiring attention to detail and a dryly optimistic view of a bleak and disgusting situation.

Largely autobiographical, the book follows Bruce Thomas, an insecure, unloved fifteen year old, going through a somewhat unusual take on the classic teenage growing pains. Set in Broadstairs, Kent in 1959, the book deals with a couple of years of Th
...more
Garrie
Most people will know Bruce Robinson from his brilliant script and direction of the film 'Withnail and I' and that is what first drew me to this book. I wasn't sure what to expect as film is so different from a novel but I needn't have worried. Robinson is a huge Dickens fan with the book set in the seaside town of Broadstairs, where Dickens wrote Bleak House, and the novel bearing many Dickensian themes, however it isn't just a homage to his favourite author. Robinson has a clear and original v ...more
Allen Houston
I've given at least five copies of this book away since I first read it a decade ago. It's darkly grim and funny but also heartbreaking. I love the interplay between Thomas and his eccentric grandfather, probably the only person who understands him. I thinks Robinson nails the awkward and ugly junior high phase. One of those I re-read on occasion, though I understand it's not everyone's cup of tea.
Die Booth
Nobody can write like Bruce Robinson. This is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read and it actually made me cry. The characters are absolutely, sometimes horribly real and utterly captivating, some of the most well-realised I’ve ever read. The storyline takes the utterly mundane life of a 50s household and sees in it the grotesque, sublime, uplifting, heartbreaking and hilarious. On one hand, it’s about a teenage boy struggling with typical teenage problems of family trauma, his grand ...more
James W.  Harris
This eccentric and odd-paced book seemed a bit disjointed and confusing to me at first. I stuck with it, mostly because I am a great admirer of the author's film Withnail and I. It paid off, as I enjoyed the last 2/3 of the book much more than the first third.

I didn't particularly care for some of it, but sometimes the author would write something so incredibly true and insightful about human relations, or something so beautiful or otherwise moving, that it made the book extremely worthwhile.
Erica
Weird, funny, touching, sad, moving. This book took me on a strange ride. Thomas Penman is certainly a one-of-a-kind character. He's a teenage boy dealing with a multitude of issues that would be hard for an adult to navigate. The author did a wonderful job of describing the ups, downs, truths, hardships and life of a peculiar and lovable young man.
Robyn
One of my favorite books. Filthy kid up to no good in dirty seaside 1960s England. Pipe bombs and pornography and boiling pots of meat and secret forts in the bushes for smoking cigarettes. And love. BR wrote Withnail and I and got an Oscar for The Killing Fields.
Melissa F
Jul 25, 2011 Melissa F marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I want to read this because of this article: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/25/1365844.... Simon Pegg is intriguing.
Corielle
What a strange book. The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman had its moments -- usually bizarre to the point of being hilarious moments -- but overall it seemed intentionally confusing and strange. Set in 1950s, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman stars a young man named, of course, Thomas Penman. His household is quite bizarre: his parents are locked in some unspoken war that he can't quite figure out, but it involves their multitude of dogs being allowed to shit all over the house. His grand ...more
Stop
Read the STOP SMILING interview excerpt with author Bruce Robinson

Against the Grain: Bruce Robinson
By JC Gabel

(This interview originally appeared in STOP SMILING The U.K. Issue)

Stop Smiling: Do you think there was ever a time when movie studios welcomed the creativity and passion of writers and took their ideas more seriously?

Bruce Robinson: You could answer that question with a yes and also a no and be just as accurate with either. Writers came late into the film industry as a kind of technolog
...more
Ian Mapp
Strange little book that is amusing and kept me interested and amused for a while.

A collection of the young Pelman thoughts of adolescence through his teenage years - where the common theme is shite. The back page of the book states that "his name was thomas penman, a 13 year old asthmatic short arse with big ears and an unwholesome charactaristic..."

This transpires to be shitting himself for pleasure.

Shite also becomes the medium through which his warring parents attempt communication - so ther
...more
Anne
"But this time of the year she was in her vaults, underground, and here she resided alone, spending most of her life in darkness, like a tongue." -- pg 48

"At either end of the mirror were additional sources of reflection. He had never known their worth before but now understood they could be manipulated to supply alternative views, views that Gwen might get, and it was her view that he was after. Both were adjusted to reveal an aspect of himself that he was startled to realise he'd never seen be
...more
Matthew Peck
Being a fan of Bruce Robinson's incomparable films WITHNAIL & I and HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING, as well as Simon Pegg, I was immediately intrigued upon seeing Pegg gush about this book to NPR (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/30/1365844...). I'd had no idea that Robinson was also a novelist. Despite occasional stylistic habits that annoy (too many ellipses at the ends of paragraphs!), he's a natural. He is English, after all.

In spite of a mouthful of a title that seems to promise forced quirk
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Jane
I think this is the first time I've ever bought a book thanks to a front cover (certainly looks bizarre).

Before reading this book I didn't really have any expectations in regards to the plot, and in reality as you read it you sense that story-wise there really isn’t much to stick your teeth into however as you read it this seems entirely irrelevant. This book was a joy to read just for the love of reading alone, it was a funny and emotional book on the adolescence of a young boy and it is rathe
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Alan Hughes
Amazon.com 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 t

...more
Kate
An old man, a boy and his feces make Memories peculiar.
Thomas Penman, in Bruce Robinson's The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, has a bizarre problem.

He leaves steaming piles of his own feces hidden all over his house. He buries the "Shakespearean potatoes" under couch cushions, behind clocks, in cabinets and once, in a pinch, in his schoolmate's hat.

After reading Robinson's Peculiar Memories, it makes sense that this is Robinson's first book and that prior to this he wrote and directed movies
...more
Jann Barber
Crude. Rude. Sweet. Tender. This is the strange story of a dysfunctional family. Every form of bodily excretion shows up during the telling of Thomas' adventures. He lies. He is fascinated by pornography and tries to find the key to his grandfather's filing cabinets filled with pornography.

His grandfather is dying of cancer. His parents loathe each other; his father has a mistress "round the corner" and his mother hires a detective in order to get proof for a divorce.

Meanwhile, Thomas' best frie
...more
Doug
Jun 03, 2012 Doug marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
This was a tough decision to either forge ahead and finish or abandon it (which is what I did).

Part of my hesitancy to finish was Robinson's style (it's not unfair to label it a little obtuse), fascination with the mundane details and, well, frankly, not understanding the British place names, etc (shame on me for letting that be a factor).

I put this on my "to reread" shelf because after I turned the book back into the library, I am still thinking about it and maybe regretting not pushing through
...more
Jrobertus
Bruce Robinson wrote the screen play for one of our family's favorite movies, "Withnail and I"; this first novel is consistent with that. It is hilarious but very off beat. As a preadolecent Thomas is plagued by a peculiar weakness, which I won't go into. Perhaps it is related to the bizarre household he lives in. His father is a mean spirited bully and his mother a long suffering cipher. Only his grandfather connects with him, though the vicar's bad boy son is a frequent companion. A girl comes ...more
Spiros
Feb 27, 2008 Spiros rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those at home in the Arena of the Unwell
From the genius who brought us WITHNAIL AND I; like WITHNAIL, basically a series of brilliantly conceived, crude and disturbing comic set pieces, with a surprisingly poignant ending. This is easier to manage in film, where visuals and music can be used to bridge the gaps between the gags; here, there is a palpable sense of the air being let out of the narrative from time to time. Still, this is a highly entertaining tale of growing up in (literally) shitty circumstances, and well worth a read. I ...more
Regina Lasalootee
This novel made me laugh and simultaneously made me nauseous. It is coming of age story, not just of a boy obsessed with finding his grandfather's porn collection, but also of a boy who . . . no. I won't say. It's a secret you have to unlock by reading the book.
Linda
Read this because it was written by the director of my favourite movie ever, "Withnail and I" ( Bruce Robinson)
I enjoyed it very much, a great portrait of the agonies of young male adolescence .
Similar in genre to " Black SwN Green" by David Mitchell
Giulietta
Questa è la storia divertente e dolce-amara di Thomas Penman, ragazzino insicuro, infelice e per nulla amato, colto nel tentativo di trovare il suo posto nel mondo, di capire le sue origini e quelle dell'odio di cui è oggetto da parte di quasi tutta la sua assurda famiglia. È la storia di amicizie che non resistono al passaggio dall'adolescenza all'età adulta, di infanzie rubate, di carne cucinata ad ogni ora, di cani dallo sfintere incontrollabile, di proteste che tutto hanno a che fare meno ch ...more
Brandon
Don't think I'd agree with Simon Pegg calling this "side-splittingly hilarious," and I've never been a fan of the coming-of-age story, but as the novel progresses from its weird poop-humor opening through its friendship and first-love and family-strife revelations (including two more poop stages) towards its personal-apocalypse ending, I fell for it. Already looking up more stories by Robinson.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
Bruce Robinson is an English director, screenwriter, novelist and actor. He is arguably most famous for writing and directing the cult classic Withnail and I (1986), a film with comic and tragic elements set in London in the 1960s, which drew on his experiences as 'a chronic alcoholic and resting actor, living i
...more
More about Bruce Robinson...
Withnail and I (Bloomsbury Film Classics) Paranoia In The Launderette The Rum Diary: A Screenplay based on the Novel by Hunter S. Thompson Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising The Obvious Elephant

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“He didn't like religion, hadn't liked it for years, but he adored churches, loved them like old scientific instruments whose time is long past but are nevertheless fascinating and strange.” 4 likes
“But this time of the year she was in her vaults, underground, and here she resided alone, spending most of her life in darkness, like a tongue” 3 likes
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