"...twice someone asked Jerry if I was tame, and he answered the same both times, 'No, man, he's not tame--he's civilized.'"
Firmin is born in the basement of a Boston bookshop to a drunken, carousing mother. He is the runt of the rat litter, which means that he eats only after his larger and stronger siblings have satiated themselves. Firmin finds that he can fill the void in his stomach by chewing the pages of books that lay about his abode so abundantly. He literally devours books.
As he realizes that the very books he has been chewing contain words that tell stories, the little rat with an oversized head becomes a book devourer of a different sort. He reads voraciously. He thinks deeply. He is a philosopher. Yes, Firmin is a civilized rat.
Firmin spends his days living vicariously through literature. The stories he reads become his reality, providing a sense of adventure and meaning into which he can escape his desperate isolation. Over time, Firmin realizes that he doesn't really fit into the worlds of his reading and, though surrounded by words, he is unable to express himself using them. Firmin's "otherness" and difficulty using language is, perhaps, an echo of the sometimes thoughts of a writer.
It is through such human emotions that the author draws us to his rather uncomely character and makes us think about our own illusions, both literary and other.
I had not heard of this book until seeing it laying on a table at my local bookstore. I was drawn immediately by the charming cover, "gnawed" edge, and inside illustrations. A quick glance at the cover might lead you to think that this is a book for children. Do not be deceived. Firmin is a book for the adult booklover and philosopher.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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