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.