“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’.” How could one resist a book with such an opening?
Firmin is a tale of a rat that has a special love for literature, born in a basement of an old bookstore in Scollay Square, Boston. Brought into a family with 12 other siblings, they “were soon fighting it out over twelve tits” which had a damaging effect on his ability to participate in the feeding routine. Firmin eats on books to survive which amazingly provides him with the ability to read.
Firmin develops a love for reading and relates everything in life to the books that he has read. The first time he ventured out to the outside world on a survival lesson with his mama, Firmin found a piece of old lettuce and described that “it tasted like Jane Eyre”. (I’ve never read Jane Eyre before but if I understand the sentence correctly, I guess I’ll know what to expect.)
Having a love for literature also places Firmin in no man’s land, he shares no connection to his own kind nor can he connect with humans which he describes as his “vast canyon of loneliness”. Though he has extraordinary abilities, he is unable to communicate his humanly thoughts in human vocabulary.
The book tells of Firmin’s yearning to become and to connect to humans (to the extent of studying sign language) and his solitary life as an intellectual rat. Engaging from the first to the last page, you’ll definitely connect with Firmin’s character if you have a look for books. You will share his frustrations, his longing, his love and his loss in a world that is finally destroyed by modernization.
Sam Savage’s first novel is filled with exquisite words and a unique storyline. Definitely a recommended must read.