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 grandfather is slowly dying upstairs, but no one will admit it. And Thomas has two main obsessions: a girl at school named Gwen, and his grandfather’s pornography collection, kept under lock and key.
Something about this book reminded me of John Irving, but a poor imitation of him. Thomas’s obsession with sex, the lunacy of the dogs shitting everywhere, the secrets kept by the parents, the random flashbacks to the grandfather’s war. But the biggest problem for me was the main character. Thomas is supposed to be 14, but it’s hard to remember that because he acts quite a bit younger — he sneaks around and eavesdrops like a child, and like a child, he doesn’t understand just about anything he hears. He just didn’t ring true as a person, and since he’s our window into his world, it made the story fall flat for me. That’s a shame, because the absurdity of the plot could have really made for a good read, if we’d had a better narrator.