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Bruce Robinson was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of The Killing Fields. He has written and directed many other films, most famously Withnail and I.
A dysfunctional family in an English coastal town of the late 1950s achieves chaotic free-fall in this mordantly comic, rowdy first novel (published last year in England) about an unloved, neglected boy's furious search for identity. English screenwriter Robinson (The Killing Fields; Withnail & I) has created an ambivalent antihero in asthmatic, big-eared, cynical Thomas Penman, age 14 in 1959, a sensitive imp who writes poems to his girlfriend Gwendolin Hackett and savors Dickens and antiques. Caught in a tug of war between parents who loathe each other and sleep at opposite ends of their dilapidated Victorian house, Thomas manifests a hurt, darker side: he tortures crabs, blasting them to hell on homemade rockets, and, under the impression that beloved, comatose Grandpa Walter is dead, riffles through the codger's pornography collection. The narrative, overspiced with four-letter words, swings from broad farce to domestic tragedy, from bathroom humor to self-discovery, with fairly predictable, peculiarly English results. Robinson hews to an idiosyncratic vision, as Thomas stubbornly unearths family secrets‘learning that Walter is dying of cancer, and discovering the true identity of his own biological father. The author manages to fuse lyricism, teen angst and raunchy satire of adult hypocrisy into a funny, tender, fiercely beautiful exploration of the humiliations, traumas, sexual awkwardness, first loves and false steps of adolescence. Agent, Ed Victor. (Jan.)