Firmin is a book about a rat. A very extraordinary rat – a rat intellectual if there is such a thing. Being born in a book store, he learns to supplement his diet with great works of literature. Initially he simply eats the books, but as the time passes he discovers that it is more satisfying to actually devour their contents rather than just to eat the paper. In fact, he discovers that great books had very sublime, interesting tastes, while trash literature left a bad taste in his mouth. Using his taste buds as a discerning tool, he proceeds to feast on the greatest works of literature he can find, learning, growing and becoming quite an eloquent little dude.
Firmin is no Stuart little though. He is not even the cute rat from Ratatouille. He is an ugly, dirty, common rat. While he can read human books, his vocal cords are incapable of producing anything remotely resembling a human speech. His furry paws are inadequate tools to use the American sign language – the only thing he is capable of saying is “hello zipper” and even that is a mere parody at best. He is to small and light to use a typewriter, and his anatomy was not designed to facilitate use of writing utensils such as pens and pencils. As such, he is unable to communicate with humans even though he is so passionate about their literature, philosophy and science. He is smart, educated, eloquent and very insightful, but no one will ever know that.
He finds other rats a bore, and he even develops a taste for the human female form which he often admires at the local smut theater. He is lonely and misunderstood by both the members of his own race, and the humans who mainly want to stomp on him, poison him, hit him with a broom or run away screeching. All he wants is companionship, and perhaps love. This condition of being both smart, eloquent, interesting and at the same time very lonely and melancholic at times makes him a very endearing and instantly likable.
The book is written as Firmin’s internal monologue. After reading all of these books, he becomes quite a competent story teller and spins his tale with great skill, jumping back, forward and injecting amusing asides into his narrative. He makes literary references, quotes famous passages and constructs elaborate metaphors. But even though his tone is a little academic and intellectual he never ceases to be accessible to the reader.
There is not much that happens in the story, action wise. It is more about Firmin’s internal monologue, his reactions, reflections and insights. It is a unique look at the human condition from the point of view of a common rodent, who is also a devoted scholar of human culture and literature.
It is worth mentioning that Firmin is Sam Savage’s very first novel – but you wouldn’t be able to tell. Well written, witty, funny but at the same sad book seems like a crowning achievement of a seasoned veteran, rather than a debut novel. While rather short (you can probably read it in one or two evenings) it is jam packed with awesome. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and my copy came pre-nibbled – the publishers cut a bite sized pattern into all of the pages as if it was tasted by the protagonist himself. A very nice touch.