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The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,296 ratings  ·  142 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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Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
MJ Nicholls
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 liter
Jul 12, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Die Booth
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Allen Houston
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Annabelle Franklin
This book is funny, sad, gross and highly atmospheric. Bruce Robinson's skillful and wickedly funny descriptions transport the reader into the world of a teenage boy growing up in a seaside town in the 1950s. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes dark comedy with a touch of toilet humour.
Byron  'Giggsy' Paul
funny. good first effort from Robinson
Ross Maclean
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
A beautiful oddity. A melancholy coming of age story that hangs thick with malaise in the fag-end of the Fifties — a landscape dominated by two generations emotionally stunted by being eaten up and spat out by wars. It takes the form of a series of advancing vignettes across six months at the end of the titular character’s fifteenth year, driven by his obsession with unravelling a family mystery or, alternatively, laying his hands on a cache of filth. Written with the kind of verve you would exp ...more
Mister Chris Barnard
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
Corielle Hayley
Feb 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, a very Bruce Robinson title, means nothing in and of itself but already you are starting to think who is this Thomas Penman and why are his memories so peculiar, surely they can't be any more peculiar than mine.

And that's just the thing isn't it, his memories are no more peculiar than yours or mine or anyone else for that matter they are just a simple retelling of a period in his life when he was growing up, something we all do and we all have the strange
Garrie Fletcher
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Elysia Fionn
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really find it hard to express a) how much I love Bruce Robinson's writing, and b) exactly why. There's something so... BRUCE about his prose. He makes you laugh one minute, you're disgusted the next, and then suddenly you're wiping away an errant tear. Nothing is sacred - he tramples on "proper" and "PC" as if they were ingredients in garden mulch. But all to a purpose. No gratuitous stuff here, and not even very much swearing. There's a general greying dinge to all his houses, a bit of hopel ...more
Aug 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James W.  Harris
Aug 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book difficult at first, what with my idealism and American earnestness and love of the uplifting. I persevered because a) it was recommended to me by someone I love very much and b) it was well written. I am glad I did. I fell in love with Thomas and all the misunderstandings that befell him. Ultimately this is a story of the importance of love to help us survive. I feel such tenderness for Thomas and his relationship with his (initially repugnant but ultimately heroic) grandfather ...more
Laura Edwards
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this book years ago while at college. I was reading it in the library and one line very early on in the book made me burst out laughing, very loud in a quiet library and I had to leave ("he farted in shock. It smelled like a dead chrysanthemum)" 😂😂
I never finished the book, but told my husband about it years later. He read it and loved it and spent ages pestering me to pick it back up.
So glad I did. Although it was a bit of a struggle at times, there are some absolutely hilarious scene
Apr 12, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, book-club
I really didn't enjoy this. It actually made me feel faintly nauseous on more than one occasion. Then I read that it might be autobiographical, and somehow it makes it better if it's not fiction. Still gross, but not gross on purpose, I guess. It definitely conveys a vivid sense of being alive in that time, stuck between warring parents and desperate for freedom, romance and pornography. I have to go take a shower now.
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-reads
This book was so quirky but I liked it. I enjoyed the relationship between the boy and his grandfather. The sister had redeeming qualities as well. The other characters were delightfully terrible. I'm not sure I'd recommend this one seeing how it was so odd.
J.D. Turner
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As the title suggests, this book is very peculiar, but in the best way possible. I think it safe to assume that the dark humour in this book will not be to everyone's taste, but if you're familiar with other works by Bruce Robinson this will be right up your street.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little bit over the top for my tastes in some places, but unique and interesting characters and a good narrative.
Steve Butler
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read it in a day as couldn't put it down but very, very odd. Like really super odd.
Aurora Lee
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This one is pretty strange yet hard to turn away from.
David Brain
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply my favourite book of all time!! The funniest prose written possibly ever. A tremendous and captivating biography.
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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

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