Summary and book reviews of Firmin by Sam Savage

Firmin

By Sam Savage

Firmin
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  • Paperback: Jan 2009,
    176 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Allison Stadd

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Book Summary

In the basement of a Boston bookstore, Firmin is born in a shredded copy Finnegans Wake, nurtured on a diet of Zane Grey, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Jane Eyre (which tastes a lot like lettuce). While his twelve siblings gnaw these books obliviously, for Firmin the words, thoughts, deeds, and hopes—all the literature he consumes—soon consume him. Emboldened by reading, intoxicated by curiosity, foraging for food, Firmin ventures out of his bookstore sanctuary, carrying with him all the yearnings and failings of humanity itself. It’s a lot to ask of a rat—especially when his home is on the verge of annihilation.

A novel that is by turns hilarious, tragic, and hopeful, Firmin is a masterpiece of literary imagination. For here, a tender soul, a vagabond and philosopher, struggles with mortality and meaning—in a tale for anyone who has ever feasted on a book…and then had to turn the final page.

First published by Coffee House Press in 2006. Republished by Delta, a division of Random House, in 2009.

Chapter One



I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: something lyric like Nabokov's "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins"; or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy's "All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." People remember those words even when they have forgotten everything else about the books. When it comes to openers, though, the best in my view has to be the beginning of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." I've read that one dozens of times and it still knocks my socks off. Ford Madox Ford was a Big One.

In all my life struggling to write I have struggled with nothing so manfully - yes, that's the word, manfully - as with openers. It has always seemed to me that if I could just get that bit right all the rest would follow automatically. I thought of that first sentence as a kind of semantic womb stuffed ...

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To escape his hard life on the streets of 1960s Boston, Firmin takes refuge amid the stacks in Pembroke's Books, losing himself in literature's faraway worlds one volume at a time. What makes Firmin unique, though, is not his voracious appetite for reading, but that he actually eats some of the books he's read. You see, Firmin is a rat - a gifted, imaginative rat who possesses a wise soul. In this inspired and poignant novel, Firmin takes readers along as he struggles to survive in the heart of Boston's notorious Scollay Square, revealing what it means to be an animal cursed - and blessed - with human instincts.

The award-winning Firmin has been heralded by Publishers Weekly as "an alternately whimsical and earnest ...
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Reviews

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Though bite-size, this first novel by Sam Savage is mouth-wateringly creative, clever, unconventional and entertaining. Firmin the Rat was born in the basement of a bookstore, and from thenceforth constructs his entire schema of the world both around him and within him in terms of literature. His imagination is as wild as the author's, taking Firmin on flights of fancy that encapsulate the reader in a fantasy land that is hard to tear away from. He takes us around the world to cities like Paris, inside the intimate relationships of Hollywood stars such as Ginger Rogers, into the brains of literary greats including F. Scott Fitzgerald, and everywhere in between ....

Firmin is the kind of debut novel that exemplifies an author's raw creativity and passion for the art of writing, as much as the story. All readers will want to take a bite, both figuratively and literally, out of this page-turner.   (Reviewed by Allison Stadd).

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Media Reviews
Booklist

Blending philosophy and abundant literary references with originality, Savage crafts a small comic gem about the costs and rewards of literary illusions.

Publishers Weekly

With this alternately whimsical and earnest paean to the joys of literature, Savage embodies writerly self-doubts and yearning in a precocious rat.

Library Journal

This is a cleverly written memoir of the colorful lives and distinct shops of a Boston borough that was sadly replaced by lackluster government offices

Kirkus Reviews

An amusing diversion for bibliophiles and Willard fans; in Savage's debut, a rat's life may be brutish and short, but not necessarily without style.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club.
A surprising and surprisingly moving meditation on the advantages (and disadvantages) of an entirely fictional life. Eloquent and witty, Firmin speaks for the book-loving rodent in all of us.

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Beyond the Book

Literary Rats

Though his book is wildly inventive, Savage is far from the first novelist to anthropomorphize a rat. Firmin stands out for presenting literature as sustenance for the body as well as the mind - as Firmin eats his way through the books, the thoughts, words and deeds contained consume him with intoxicating curiosity.

For every work of literature that contains a positive description of an anthropomorphized rat, there are probably at least a couple where rats come off less well; they seem to do especially poorly in books 'peopled' only by animals where they tend to be typecast as villains or outcasts. 

From the rats of Hamlin to Dilbert's co-employee Ratbert, rats feature far and wide, ...

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