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.