Firmin – Book Review

firmin I am convinced that these masticated pages furnished the nutritional foundation for – and perhaps even directly caused – what I with modesty shall call my unusual mental development. – from Firmin, page 18 –

One dark night, a rat named Flo flees from humans into the basement of a bookstore in the Boston neighborhood of Scollay Square. There she makes a nest from the pages of discarded books and gives birth to thirteen baby rats…one of whom is Firmin. Firmin consumes books – literally – and grows into a rat who loves to read and philosophize about life. He explores the bookstore at night and watches its patrons from a ceiling fixture by day. Firmin longs to be human and to be able to communicate with the people he sees each day…especially Norman, the bookstore’s owner who later proves to be less than friendly to Firmin.

Life is short, but still it is possible to learn a few things before you pop off. One of the things I have observed is how extremes coalesce. Great love becomes great hatred, quiet peace turns into noisy war, vast boredom breeds huge excitement. It was the same with Norman and me. – from Firmin, page 80 –

As the months of Firmin’s life pass, the neighborhood he calls home become threatened with imminent destruction (in fact, the real Scollay Square was demolished between 1960 and 1963 – the time period of the novel), and Firmin comes to meet a lumbering, largely unknown author named Jerry.

Firmin is alternately funny, insightful, and sad. Firmin’s observations of humans (and his love of literature) were the most enjoyable parts of the book.

Sometimes the books were arranged under signs, but sometimes they were just anywhere and everywhere. After I understood people better, I realized that this incredible disorder was one of the things that they loved about Pembroke Books. They did not come there just to buy a book, plunk down some cash and scram. They hung around. they called it browsing, but it was more like excavation or mining. I was surprised they didn’t come in with shovels. thy dug for treasures with bare hands, up to their armpits sometimes, and when they hauled some literary nugget from a mound of dross, they were much happier than if they had just walked in and bought it. – from Firmin, page 26 –

Sam Savage’s slim novel about a literary rat tackles the larger issues of life and death, including seeking our dreams despite recognizing our limitations. For a reader like myself who loved Sylvester the Mouse with a Musical Ear by Adelaide Holl and The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this little book was quite an enjoyable and imaginative read.



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  1. I’ve read a few things about this book and it certainly looks and sounds intriguing. I really enjoyed your review.

    • Sandra on December 28, 2008 at 15:23

    This was outside my usual reading range but because it was a book about books I tried it and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hadn’t seen that edition before now, I don’t know what I’d think about owning a book that looks like that. A very nice review, thank you.

    • Wendy on December 28, 2008 at 15:33

    Staci: Thanks!

    Sandra: LOL – it is cute with the bite taken out of it…but it is a little hard to hold! Glad to see you also enjoyed the book.

    • Megan on December 29, 2008 at 07:39

    This sounds like an interesting book. Definitely one for the wish list. I love the quote about disorder in the bookstore. Excavating those hidden treasures is definitely half the fun of book shopping at used book stores and sales!

  2. This one’s been sat on my wishlist for ages, good to hear you enjoyed it!

    • Kathy on December 30, 2008 at 10:14

    I’ve never heard of this book, but your review makes me want to read it.

    • Wendy on December 31, 2008 at 08:07

    Megan: It is a quick read…and a must read for bibliophiles!

    Bart: Hope you’ll get a chance to read it soon 🙂

    Kathy: It first came out in 2006, but has been re-published for 2009.

    • Jeane on January 1, 2009 at 08:07

    The premise sounds kind of like a little book I read years ago called A Book Dragon, about a small dragon that inhabited a bookshop. Charming. I’m putting Firmin on my TBR!

    • Wendy on January 4, 2009 at 09:56

    Jeane: I haven’t heard of that one…but it sounds darling! I hope you’ll enjoy Firmin!

    • Rattiemama on January 21, 2009 at 15:12

    I just finished this book and I loved it. It’s full of interesting characters, rich descriptions, and literary allusions. I picked it up because I’m a rat lover, but I kept reading because I’m a lover of literature.

    • Wendy on January 23, 2009 at 08:34

    Rattiemama: With your name, I’m sure this book spoke to you! I love rats too – I had several in my college years…very intelligent and loving creatures (but they do not live long enough!!) I agree about the book – it is really a book for book lovers.

    • Teddy on February 6, 2009 at 15:20

    I haven’t heard of this book before. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. I added it to good old Mt. TBR.

    • Wendy on February 6, 2009 at 18:26

    Teddy: It is a fun book – I think you’d like it.

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