Firmin – Sam Savage

February 8, 2010 § 16 Comments

And from them I learned a valuable lesson – that no matter how small you are, your madness can be as big as anyone’s.

Told by a rat, Firmin is a story about the rat himself as he discovers the world of literature by literally chewing at books day and night. His love for having books as part of his diet was initially borne out of necessity, but as the days go by, he learns that each book has a different taste. Learning how to read the text on these books also tells him that different authors give him a completely different experience of the text he gobbles up.

And with that, he learns to love reading.

Firmin lives in some dark corner in a second hand bookstore, which is how he gets to devour books on a daily basis. Initially starting at the basement where mostly old editions of classic books are kept, Firmin keeps referring us to the different kinds of literature he’s reading, from the opening sentences of Lolita and The Good Soldier (both of which I want to read now), to a book from which he learns sign language.

As the adventures of this metropolitan lowlife continue, he goes out to discover other sources of food (so that he doesn’t need to always get an upset stomach after eating his books), and instead discovers the cinema. He loves his Lovelies, and he’s not afraid to tell you about it. (It did get a little weird towards the end. I’m not sure I fully understood a couple of scenes..)

Firmin himself (later he got named Ernie, but you’ll have to read to find out more..) is a character that’s easy to love. I’m sometimes a little squemish about rats, but this literary rat made me feel like I wanted to get to know him, shrink myself down to size and carry out inspired conversations with him.

And he’s my kind of rat too. He’s funny, he makes you chuckle, but he’s not happy-happy, and he knows it.

I have never been right in the head, but I am not demented. You may raise an eyebrow here, you may raise both eyebrows, but the fact remains, daydreams and mental tricks are one things, nuts is another. And I am not the kind of creature who can be crazy without knowing it.

As you have probably guessed by now, I am a pretty depressive character myself and know all about the seventeen kinds of despair…

It was a very enjoyable read. Loved the literary references. A light read, one that kind of reminds you why you liked reading in the first place.

Rating: 4


Note: Picked this up because of the great things I read about it at Bookie Mee and Savidge Reads. Go pay them a visit. They’ve got well-written reviews.

§ 16 Responses to Firmin – Sam Savage

  • mee says:

    I actually heard of Firmin first from Michael Kindness. I don’t know if you have reached the podcast in which he talked about it 🙂

  • Susan says:

    Firmin sounds like a book I’d love to chew on (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Seriously, though, I enjoy books which reinforce the importance and joy of reading. Thanks for your excellent review, Michelle.

  • savidgereads says:

    Really pleased that you enjoyed this Michelle as I was a big fan of the book, it reminds me I must give Cry of the Sloth a go soon as I think Sam Savage is an author to watch out for, am not sure about his name being so similar to mine though hahaha.

    • Michelle says:

      Your names are rather similar, which I always find amusing. =)

      Speaking of which, I should pop over to Gaskella’s to read her review of Cry of the Sloth.

  • Jo says:

    I enjoyed this too! I Loved the idea of firmin being able to tell the literary quality of a book by it’s taste.

    • Michelle says:

      I liked that part very much as well. It’s like taking something we feel on the mental and emotional level (what literary taste each of us have), and translating it into something physical. =)

  • gaskella says:

    I enjoyed Firmin very much, having read it shortly after it was published. I did a silly thing though, and sold my copy on (I had the UK first edition with nibbles out of the front cover)- now I’d love to re-read it and the first edition is going for much more than I got! Grr.

    Just read The Cry of the Sloth and reviewed it on my blog. That was also excellent, although not an easy book to love. It’s written mostly in letters and all from the antihero’s PoV.

    • Michelle says:

      That’s why I tend to never giveaway or sell books I already own. And I used to reread a lot, so I kept as many books as I could.

      Will pop over to yours soon.

  • Sasha says:

    I really want to read this book now, but I can’t seem to find it in this country (ordering online is out of the question). It just seems so cute and clever and smart–but then I read an infuriating review by some blogger that began with the ending, as in, “So, the rat–” Ugh. Yes, you guys have hinted at it; nonetheless, I still want to read this book.

    Thanks for the review. 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve heard that it’s rather difficult to get books in the Phillipines… But just out of curiosity, why is ordering online out of the question? Is it the unreliable post, or the exorbitant prices? =p

      • Sasha says:

        Augh, you got me started, haha. The prices get steep, what with shipping and customs taxes–although books are, by international law, exempt from tax, some customs people find a way to tax you for them (it caused quite a scandal a while back, when shipments of books were being held in ports because they taxed them and no one could match the prices). There’s the usual 35-peso customs tax for all packages, and I grudgingly pay for that, but sometimes when the people in charge at the Post Office know that you ordered from, say, Amazon, they find a way to charge you say, a thousand bucks for a package of three books (which is what a friend of mine was asked to pay–she refused, and left the packages there, which is sad).

        Let’s say a book costs 700 bucks–brand new trade paperbacks cost the same locally, so there’s no problem with that–but then there’s shipping, which amounts to 1,500. That’s painful. And then there’s the 35-peso customs tax, which is standard (but stupid). And then there’s the possibility of getting taxed for more.

        Such are my heartaches, haha. That’s why I was so bummed to discover that although Book Depository has free worldwide shipping (I mean, imagine how I squealed), the country list doesn’t include the Philippines. And that just hurts.

        [I could also ask a bookstore to order a book for me, but then I’d pay for shipping too, blah blah, although I’m safer from customs. But still. Shipping hurts when everything is in America.]

        I took over your comments. Oh my.

        • Michelle says:

          Comments are for you people anyway, so take over away.

          That actually sounds horrible. And scary. What about if you get a package/parcel posted to you from a friend, instead of from Amazon? Do they charge for those as well? And don’t you have local online shops? It’s a pity to not get books you want, isn’t it? (And I’ve heard the libraries aren’t exactly the best…)

  • Sasha says:

    Hi, Michelle. There are a couple of online shops, and it’s always fun to go exploring in used bookstores to save up on money (and chance upon books), but sometimes you want something specific (like Firmin), and, well, it could be hardgoing. A package from a friend gets charged the usual 35pesos, but sometimes that’s waived if the sender notes that the package is a gift. I don’t know, customs standards are mercurial, haha.

    But, still. I’m bitching, haha. :]

    • Michelle says:

      I’m definitely with you about exploring bookstores and coming across an unexpected gem. But yea, it doesn’t sound very good, this customs thing. Maybe you could get a friend who lives overseas to be your Book Depository? Just a suggestion. =)

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