Monday, March 02, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Firmin by Sam Savage

"...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

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

Also reviewed at:


  1. Thanks for the link!

    Love your review. I, sometimes, wish I was better at writing more concise reviews.

    Yours is the perfect length for reading on a computer screen and still hits what's important.

  2. I agree with Nicole - I enjoyed your review and I'll be adding the book to my list.


  3. I've been wondering about this book since I first heard about it, but admit I've been waiting for a friend to review it before deciding whether I should try it or not. It does sound good from what you've written. I'll definitely have to give it a try. Thanks, Terri!

  4. Nicole and CJ: Thank you for the compliment! I must admit though, that I'm a librarian and one of the things I do as a part of my profession is to write brief reviews for publication; I get a lot of practice. I admire others reviews because they are usually more personal than mine. I worry that mine are a little too "clinical" sometimes.

    Literary Feline: The book isn't very long and was a quick and enjoyable read. I'll look forward to your review if you do read it!