Firmin – Sam Savage

Whenever I want a book about books I don’t really tend to think of scouring browsing the fiction section in bookshops or online. Yet if ‘Firmin’ by Sam Savage (which is strangely close to sounding like my name) is a fiction novel that is very much a book about books and the love of them, only its written in a brilliant, unusual way and when you venture deeper its about so much more too.

Sam Savage’s book ‘Firmin’ comes with the addition subtitle ‘Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife’ and the lowlife is not what you might think in fact Firmin, who is also our narrator, is a rat. He is not just any old rat though, oh no, he is a rat born in the basement of a bookshop in Boston 1960. A rat that learns he has a taste for books in the eating sense but soon realises they are so much more than food as he becomes a rat who reads, with the occasional nibble of the edges of the pages if starving. The book takes us through Firmin’s initial adventures in the basement, then as he learns to find food, fend for himself and scavenge and eventually as he has to learn to survive. Interspersed with this are the adventures and characters he finds in the pages of all the books that surround him which become almost as much an obsession as food does.

“I am trying to tell the true story of my life, and believe me, it’s not easy. I had read a great many of the books under FICTION before I halfway understood what thesign mean and why certain books had been placed under it. I had thought I was reaidng the history of the world. Even today I must constantly remind myself, sometimes by means of a rap on the head, that Eisenhower is real while Oliver Twist is not.”

It sounds very simplistic if I leave it at that and yet there is a lot more too it. You wouldn’t think that ‘Firmin the vermin’ would be a character that you could warm to let alone you on an emotional journey (well I didn’t) however Savage proves us all wrong as by the end I found it an incredibly sad book. Firmin is a brilliant kooky character that you can’t help but become fond of and quite a comical one there are some laughs along the way. I found Firmin’s fascination with humans touching, especially with the two he comes to love, and the differing ways humans react to him makes for insightful reading.

It’s difficult to say anymore without giving too much away. I will admit before I read it I would not have instantly thought this would be a book that celebrates books or one I would love. In fact for the first few pages I was thinking ‘is this just a book filled with quotes of other books’ and then I was into it before I knew it. If I was rating this with stars it would be five stars. I did nearly knock a star of for a weird surreal moment (and I say that after having recently read a Murakami) with Ginger Rogers that I didn’t like towards the end. It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realise the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional. It also comes with wonderful illustrations and covers of some fabulous old books as the picture below tries to show you…

I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at! This is now the second book with a rat or mouse in it that has affected me the last few months, Flowers for Algernon being the other. Though don’t tell Firmin that, he isn’t a fan of ‘rodent based literature’ or ‘fluffy fiction’ as he sometimes puts it. Who else has read this utter gem and who has read Sam Savage’s second book ‘The Cry of the Sloth’? I have that on the shelves so may have to take a nibble, I mean look, soon.


Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2010, Orion Publishing, Review, Sam Savage

37 responses to “Firmin – Sam Savage

  1. Oh my, you’ve made me want to go out and scour the bookshelves for this book. It’s like a bibliophilic Ratatouille, haha. And when I say that it sounds like an adorable book, it’s the five-year-old girl in me marveling at a rat in a bookstore’s basement. :]

    I really, really want to read this now. It sounds like a wonderful read. :] Never mind that I just might cry when I get to that ending you’ve talked about. :]

    • It is a great read Sasha and one that really surprised me. I thought I would love it from the fact it was set in a book shop. I wasnt quite so sure that a rat as a main character would work and it did. Maybe it is the inner child in me. Mind you I wouldnt let a child near this one, read it and you might see why haha.

  2. Oh, go on then, I’ll add it to the wishlist!

  3. Thanks for your review! I just bought this book last week, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Your review reminded me of how much I want to read it, so hopefully I will get to it soon. It sounds so good!

    • It is brilliant and hopefully Dana I won’t have given too much away. I adored it and was hoping to but not quite so much as I actually did it lived up to more than my expectations.

  4. lizzysiddal

    (D)rats! I had so far resisted this but have now added it to the wishlist. It is now only a matter of time before Amazon’s long tail triumphs once more …

    • Hahahaha I love the (d)rats that made me chuckle. It is one that I resisted for ages and ages even though had heard some wonderful things which just shows that if you wanna read something just do it.

  5. I read this back in 2008 and found it a powerful parable about life and love, literature and the spectre of progress at any cost. It’s ultimately very sad, but a lovely book. Having said that, when I read it ‘Ratatouille’ had just come out and I couldn’t escape comparing the two! I have Cry of the Sloth, just need to make the time to read it – I read a great review of it on Bookmunch some time ago.

    • Ooh that first line is a brilliant one line summation of this book Annabel, I wish I could have come up with something like that.

      I have heard really mixed things about The Cry of the Sloth but it sounds wonderful and about books again being set around a literary festival.

  6. It sounds like a fun read- and I really like the cover image you posted, so clever. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while.

    • Jeane its a brill read and while its a lot of fun get ready for a bit of an emotional whack towards the end. I wasnt expecting it and then I was and then it was too touching.

      I think your avatar is eyeing up the cover too.

  7. Add another book to the TBR pile. Darn you.

  8. Kay

    A strange request perhaps but can you please write me an email telling me whether the book has a happy ending or not? I don’t need any details, I’d just like to know whether Firmin dies in the end or not.

    The reason I am asking you this is that lately I’ve seen this book pop up on many blogs and it has amassed enough good reviews for me to want to read it. However I am not happy at the possibility of getting attached to Firmin and then seeing him killed off in the end, hence my strange request above.


  9. lena

    This just sounds too sweet to pass up. And the cover is just beautiful. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it can’t hurt to do it sometimes.

    • Oh I judge books by their covers all the time in fact there is one coming up on Tuesday that I bought originally for its cover and the book was even better than the amazing purple cover… though thats not the cover have put in the post. Ok, am waffling now.

  10. Sorry, not a comment on the book, but just to let you know I’ve tagged you in a meme! Have a go if you think it looks fun, and let me know if you do… enjoy!
    Info. here:

    • I don’t know if I can forgive you for not commenting on such a bookish book!!! Oh ok then I have.

      I just had a look and I loved the idea, I might give this a whirl next week. I was a big fan of Point Horror too, goodness when will our Simon similarities ever end hahahaha.

  11. I’m glad you reviewed this book. I saw it a couple of years ago, thought it looked interesting, and then eventually forgot about it. That quote you chose about Firmin getting real and fictional people confused was really too cute.

  12. Curzon Tussaud

    You should try Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel
    Archy is the cockroach who types his thoughts and philosophy on life on Marquis’s typewriter every night, and Mehitabel is the office cat. Archy is a lowlifer with elevated thoughts and aspirations. Magic.

  13. Curzon Tussaud

    Love it! “Hound” Faber to reprint a book about a cockroach and a cat. Ooh, you are dogged!

  14. Jo

    Oh, you’ve won me over with this one. I hadn’t heard of this but it’s just gone on my library request list, so should be here soon.

  15. This one was already on my TBR list but I considered not reading it because of the “sadness” issue that I saw mentioned around. Still, your review has just saved its spot and I will try to get to it sooner than later!

    • I think we have to read sad books sometimes. This isn’t an overly sad book as it has some very funny parts. I do think sad books should be read though because they are a part of life and some of the saddest reads have been some of my best reads.

  16. mee

    I just read and reviewed this recently in December last year. A fun little book.

  17. Pingback: Firmin – Sam Savage « su[shu]

  18. Pingback: marginalia || Firmin, by Sam Savage « Sasha & The Silverfish

  19. Pingback: Books of 2010 Part One… « Savidge Reads

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