"The front flap says it is 'excruciatingly funny', and that's not true," he continued. "I read the first few pages, and they weren't funny, and I looked at a few pages later on, and they weren't funny either."
After a few beats, I realised he was deadly serious. We had a short chat about how his thoughts on the book were a matter of opinion, rather than a quantifiable fact, and how, as a secondhand bookshop, books tended to be sold as seen with no refunds, especially if the only reason was because he thought it wasn't funny.
"But it isn't funny," he countered, in exactly the same kind of voice Nigel Tufnell used when he said, "But it goes up to eleven."
By now the breathtaking audacity of the man had won me over, and I decided to give him his money back (after all, Withnail Books can never have enough first edition copies of Thomas Penman, and if I hadn't, he'd still be standing there now).
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman *is* excruciatingly funny, in my opinion, though it most certainly is full of four letter words, and many equally rude words with more letters than that, all used to wonderful effect. As reviewer 'A Reader' on Amazon opines:
Bruce Robinson's mastery of descriptive language was so delicious I found myself reading whole paragraphs aloud, to no one in particular, just to hear the words. Selections should be publicly read on Mr. Robinson's birthday by the best British voices available.
Hear, hear. If you're not familiar with the book and want to read a short review, here's what a certain Mr Simon Pegg thinks of it (in brief, he says it's "both moving and side-splittingly hilarious").
It was Robinson's first (and to date only) novel, and it caused quite a splash when it was published in 1998, not only because of the Withnail connection, but thanks to Bloomsbury's fantastic cover design.
After a hardcover which included typography, they took the gutsy decision to go entirely type-free on the cover of the paperback, and just let the utterly perfect photograph (by Matt Harris) do all the work.
Once seen, never forgotten. And as someone who regularly sells copies of the book that I leave face out, I can vouch for its efficacy.
Bruce Robinson is currently trying to get a film version of Thomas Penman off the ground. What a shame this kid is now too old, as he'd be worth casting if only to use this image on the film poster as well.