I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book. I’d seen it compared to Catcher in the Rye (which seemed a specious comparison), but more to the point, I’d seen it labeled as one of the filthiest books in the mainstream. It’s not. It does deal explicitly with shagging, shit, and fetish, but Robinson strikes me less as fecally-minded Salinger than Jerry Spinelli with a sharp British tongue and a bit more epithets than usual.
Peculiar Memories[…] starts out as promised, with a very young Thomas Penman who is wont to making dung deposits in his underpants. He is joined by a cast of quirky characters, from his aggressive father to his bitch of a mother; his ailing, pornography-loving grandfather; his best foul-mouthed friend, Maurice, and Gwen Hackett, the love of his life. The story quickly turns dark as the almost violent marital strife between his parents is exposed, his grandfather hovers near death, and Thomas himself is caught in the mostly unfunny maelstrom that is puberty.
By the time I finished the book, I was incredibly unhappy. Robinson’s prose is fantastic (if at times undecipherably British to this reader), but I felt like he cheated when it came to developing his characters. They were fascinating characters, to be sure, but their motivations remain a mystery even after the novel is finished. Thomas’s travails with Gwen, are instance, is baffling, because the relationship is seemingly arbitrary. So is the “secret” that Thomas spends the entire novel trying to unfold. The plot, in truth, requires a book twice as long to account for all the character changes and properly narrate what otherwise is a gripping and fascinating storyline. If you read it, just be prepared for a lot of controversial material for controversy’s sake.