Firmin ein Rattenleben ; Roman

by Sam Savage

Other authorsSusanne Aeckerle (Translator)
Hardcover, 2008



Call number

HU 9800 S263 F5



Berlin Ullstein 2008


Born in a bookstore in a blighted 1960's Boston neighborhood, Firmin the rat miraculously learns how to read by digesting his nest of books. He quickly realizes that a literate rat is a lonely rat. In a series of misadventures, Firmin is ultimately led deep into his own imaginative soul.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elliepotten
This book is quite unlike anything I have ever read before - and I must admit, when I first started reading it I thought I had made one of my very infrequent reading mistakes and that I wasn't going to finish it. In the most basic terms, this novel is about the odd life of a rat named Firmin. Born
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in a bookstore to an alcoholic mother, Firmin is the runt of a litter of rowdy children, and he quickly has to learn to take care of himself. Unable to feed properly thanks to his boisterous siblings, he has to take matters into his own hands and starts to chew on the books around him.

To his surprise, he finds them delicious, and as he chews more and more he starts to be able to tell the difference between the taste of various authors and publishers, between good and bad literature - and realises he is learning to read. This is the starting point for a strange life, filled with literature, the bookstore, the nearby cinema with its gyrating 'Lovelies' - and most of all, a desire to be understood by the humans he so admires.

So far so unusual, but this is much more than a book about a rat. In the beginning Firmin's poetic lyricism, his lapses into crudity and his odd ideas, built out of the books he has read and his permanent melancholic state, felt self conscious and overdone, hence my initial scepticism. But slowly I felt myself sinking into the world of this little creature, into his impossible dreams of something bigger than his life, into his hopeless quest for acceptance by the humans around him who see vermin, not Firmin. In telling his life story he veers between black humour and utter misery, yet in seeing us both through our literature and through observation of our lives and habits, peering in longingly, he cuts sharply through to the very core of human emotion and philosophy.

As the council's town redevelopment (read: demolishment) plans move slowly, ominously, ever-closer to the bookstore and to the life Firmin has built for himself, the reader can only allow themselves to be swept up in the tide of rising hopes and crushing disappointments, happiness and despair, friendship and loneliness, that make up the world of this little rat. Ultimately, of course, he is an allegorical figure pushing in vain against his own nature, his place in life, the weight of knowledge and the unstoppable forces that threaten to drown everything he holds dear - and finally bring him full circle.

The best advice I could offer would be to read it for yourself. Look at the heartbreakingly sweet, melancholic pictures dotted amongst the pages; feel the yearning and the intelligence oozing from each word, each moving sentence... You will never look at the world in quite the same way again.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Holding the book "Firmin" as it is now, with its novella-like thinness and its stylized bite out of the side (makes for uncomfortable reading, being right where your thumbs would normally go), it’s easy to confuse it for something it’s not.

“Is this a children’s book?” was my first
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reflection. It has a crude drawing of a rat on the cover. It’s about a rat who lives in the basement of a Boston bookstore and reads and reads and reads and wants to be, Pinnochio-like, human. How charming. It’s a book whose actual SHAPE is a gimmick. Let’s class it as a stocking-stuffer, a modern fable perhaps to be wrapped up with Coehlo’s The Alchemist and foisted off on some relative looking for some comforting but tepid philosophy.

Except, you’d be wrong. I was wrong.

Within a few pages, Firmin is clawing out his story: a desperate and raw dirge. His metaphorical yarn bemoans the traditionally ominous inhuman machines of progress as they triumph over sloppy--but much more meaningful--things like literature and love. This is a fable, sure, but it is one of viscera and coitus, redemption and meaning.

Born by chance in a bookstore, Firmin reacts to the innately marginal position of his species by (inexplicably) learning to read. His littermates follow in the primal footsteps of their alcoholic mother, all teeth and primitive drives, but Firmin finds the vaunted world of literature and is transformed by it. He reads everything, and loves it, except, if you don’t yet believe he isn’t cute:

“The only literature I cannot abide is rat literature, including mouse literature. I despise good-natured Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. I piss down the throats of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, CUTE, they stick in my craw like fish bones.”

It’s not for kids. It’s not even for especially sensitive adults. Its tone sometimes reaches mildly hopeful only to be drop-kicked down into a very dirty alley full of specters and sadness. Firmin is a sociopath, or at least delusional. He sees meaning where there is none and experiences interactions that don’t actually occur. He is, fundamentally, alone. And that’s where the sadness really festers.

Here is a rat who obsessively reads books on sign language, wretchedly trying to learn to gesture the phrase “What do you like to read?” Absent digits and opposable thumbs, the best thing he can learn to shudder out is “goodbye zipper,” which gets him about as far as it sounds like it would.

Behind this, a story about the demise of Scollay Square in Boston (wherein is located Firmin’s bookstore), with the expected lamentation about the boarded-up storefronts and abandoned buildings. It’s not a poor choice of backgrounds, but against Firmin’s story it seems jarringly anthropomorphic, occasionally distracting.

Firmin leaves a haunting miasma behind. It’s not an easy book, despite its length, and one has to take care to find the hope in the hopelessness. But it is a thought-provoking one, one for savoring and considering, perhaps remembering.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Among oddball novels, odder than most.

Extended review:

I kind of hate giving only three and a half stars to this one. It's in a class of its own, like the 10-point letters in Scrabble, Q and Z, and in that class it gets top marks. Quirky. Zany. And also quiet. And, if I may say so,
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Although I know I haven't read a book like this before, there's still an uncanny sense of familiarity, a kind of deja vu, a feeling of recognition at some elemental level--as if I'd been there before in a half-remembered dream, in the walls and ceilings of Pembroke Books, in the alleys and gutters of old Scollay Square.

Or maybe it's only that Firmin, the rodent protagonist, feels like no stranger, but rather, someone I might see in, say, a bookstore. Or the living room. Or the mirror.

Indeed, I found it all too easy to identify with this outsider, this misfit, this onlooker who doesn't belong among his own kind or any other kind; who adores the unattainable, who aches to be what he can never become, who knows his own truth and longs not to know it--namely, that he is a rat. A rat blessed with the ability to read and to find a home among the books and lose himself in literature, and also cursed to yearn hopelessly for a like-minded companion; a rat with a rat's unlovely face and unmelodious voice and the ability to scrounge a livelihood out of whatever marginally nutritious substance presents itself. And that includes paper. Firmin devours books.

Firmin would probably scoff at the idea of calling his story "poignant" or "touching." He wants us to know that despite his occasional ingratiating antics, he is not cute and cuddly but a fierce animal. He is unashamed of his passions, but he does not succumb to sentimentality. His teeth are sharp.

That feeling of resonance sent me scrambling, or maybe I should say scurrying, for parallels in the world of art. I felt sure there must be some; the sense that I'd followed other explorers of this emotional and psychological territory was just too strong. The soaring imagination, the unrequited love, the self-deprecation, the solitude. The perverse beauty of the grotesque. I thought of Toulouse-Lautrec painting prostitutes; of Van Gogh layering his madness onto the canvas; of Leonardo and Bosch and every other artist who relished the everyday bizarre.

I thought, too, of Cyrano de Bergerac, whose disfiguration masks a great soul; and of Beauty and the Beast, the Ugly Duckling, and the Elephant Man, cultural icons whose messages speak to the hidden self that lacks the power or the courage to show itself. I thought of the angels and demons of Rilke. As I step back and consider character after character who chafes at the limitations of his or her life, I realize: I've read a thousand books like Firmin. Firmin is Everyman, is he not? Even if not Everyrat.

But Firmin would never take himself so seriously. He mocks his own grandiose notions, never forgetting for long what he is and where he came from. He's a rat. He has a life in books. Readers like us can understand.
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LibraryThing member ShelfMonkey
I've read a lot of books. I don't mean that as bragging (ok, yes, I'm bragging a little), but as stating a simple fact. And after reading the hundreds of authors, I have become jealous of a certain few. I wish I could write like them. To have the spectacular control of narrative that James Ellroy
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and John Irving wield. To trip the light humourous as only Douglas Adams can do. To strive for inventiveness on the unparalleled levels of Jonathan Lethem, Philip K. Dick, and Raymond Chandler. To simply stir the world in the manner of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (and really, has there ever been an author with as singular a voice as Vonnegut? I cry schenanigans if you argue otherwise).

So, yes, there are many examples of authors I wish I could write like. Wish, but never try to emulate. Imitation is never as good as the original; I think every fantasy author who tried to copy Tolkien through ogres, trolls, magic, and the use of odd-sounding proper nouns prove my point again and again. Ditto the hard-boiled chatter of Mickey Spillane. If you ain't got it, you can't fake it.

But books I wish I'd written? Very few.

Every so often, however, I'll come across a novel that, in its themes, its flow, its view of life, I wish I wrote. Patrick Ness' The Crash of Hennington was the last one I remember, and before that, Chabon's Wonder Boys. Something about these stories speaks to a level of my subconscious so sublime and mysterious that I cannot comprehend why I didn't write it first.

Add Sam Savage's Firmin to the list.

Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife is many things. It is a book-lovers dream. It is a fairy tale in the most realistic sense of the fantastic. It is an ode to the bygone past. It is very, very good.

Firmin is a rat, a remarkably ediudite and well-read rodent who has grown up in the bowels of a Boston bookstore in Scollay Square during the early 1960s: "There were Zane Grey westerns by the saddleload, books of lugubrious sermons by the casketful, old encyclopedias, memoirs of the Great War, diatribes against the New Deal, instruction manuals for the New Woman." Born in a confetti of paper that was Finnegan's Wake, nourished on the pages and glue of nearby novels, Firmin has gained the ability to read, and has therefore greater aspirations than those of his siblings Sweeny, Chucky, Luweena, Feenie, Mutt, Peewee, Shunt, Pudding, Elvis, Elvina, Humphrey, and Honeychild. As they and their mother Flo eventually wander off into their own narratives, Firmin decides to stay put, takes up a vantage point in the ceiling, and watches the goings-on of Norman, shop-owner and (in Firmin's mind), "THE FIRST HUMAN BEING F. EVER LOVED."

Soon, as Firmin's intellect grows by leaps and bounds, so do his flights of imagination and his periods of depression. Convinced that the "masticated pages furnished the nutirtional foundation for - and perhaps even directly caused - what I with modesty shall call my unusual mental development," Firmin sadly grasps that he cannot ever be what he truly craves to be: human. But in the books, and the mix of classic cinema and low-budget pornography he watches during visits to the Rialto movie theatre, he finds an acceptance he cannot find among his own kind, or amongst the patrons of the bookstore. His life, then, is one of constant yearning for betterment, and if there is a more common yet important theme in the evolution of humankind, I have yet to find it.

Firmin is, at first, a bookseller's dream, a reader with no discerning taste to guide his purchases; "I love all stories," he says, capturing the true glory of reading a good book. "I love the progression of beginning, middle, and end. I love the slow accumulation of meaning, the misty landscapes of the imagination, the mazy walks, the woody slopes, the reflecting pools, the tragic twists and comic stumbles." All this sounds unbearably precious and twee, yet it is precisely Firmin's ornate style, combined with Savage's flashes of cruel reality, that ensures that Firmin remains head-and-shoulders higher than the concept would indicate. Firmin himself hates the cliche of the loveable rodent; "The only literature I cannot abide is rat literature, including mouse literature. I despise good-natured old Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. I piss down the throats of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fish bones." While never mentioned, it seems a good bet that Firmin might rather enjoy the adventures of William Kotzwinkle's insane Dr. Rat, one of the more disturbing examples of anthropomorphization in recent literature, leavened by Kotzwinkle's good-humoured bear Hal Jam in The Bear Went Over the Mountain (which is, come to think of it, another novel I wish I had written).

Firmin does make a friend of a sort, a down-on-his-luck science-fiction author named Jerry Magoon, "the second human I ever loved." Through Firmin's description of Jerry as having shoulder-length hair, "grey and thinning...a small Irish nose, a big drooping mustache over a wide thin-lipped mouth," you might be forgiven for believing Jerry to be a stand-in for Sam Savage himself (check out his portrait on the back flap), but the review of Jerry's novel The Nesting suggests a Vonnegut figure by way of Kilgore Trout.

What Savage does, effortlessly, is play his love of literature against his mourning over the comercialization of the world, of the practice of commerce over art. Firmin's world of books is an idealized paradise of ideas, one which reality constantly threatens to overwhelm.

In the end, this slight novel is a masterful love letter to everything good in the world. Firmin (the rat) is a spectacular character, and Firmin (the novel) is a treasure.
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LibraryThing member pgmcc
Firmin is a rat who loves literature. This book is Firmin’s own account of his life, from his birth in the basement of a second-hand bookshop, through his development into a mature rat, to the reminiscences of his old age.

Unusually for a rat, Firmin can read. The ability to read, he speculates,
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stems from his eating shreds of Finnegan’s Wake when he was a baby.

The first chapter opens with an interesting discussion on the merits or otherwise of a good opening sentence, and how the problem of coming up with a good opening sentence has probably prevented the writing to many wonderful novels. He also postulates that many of the most famous “good opening sentences” have been the cause of great disappointment when what follows has failed to reach the standard of the opening words.

Sam Savage’s use of a rat as narrator has given him the opportunity to present the thoughts, pressures and feelings of individuals in a range of circumstances. (I am aware that the inferences I draw at this point may have nothing to do with what the author intended, but these are some of the messages I took from the book, whether Mr. Savage knew he put them there or not.) Apart from the humour related to the concept of a literate rat living in a bookshop, there are deeper themes at play in Firmin.

This book is about loneliness, self inspection, loss, disillusionment, relationships, and growing old. In the 230 pages of prose, Savage shows us life from the viewpoint of the runt of a litter, someone looked down upon by his siblings; a member of a community/race who is despised and shunned, unless they are in the company of more acceptable company; someone who is seen as a “cute” being, rather than an intelligent person with thoughts of his own; a person whose closest friends do not understand who he is.

The midsection of the book was losing my interest until I saw what Savage was doing. He was brining the reader into the mind of the individual who has few friends; who is set apart from the average person by his intellect and physical differences; who finds it difficult to communicate with the majority of people, and/or rats, he encounters; a loner.

Firmin is an easy to read, short novel, that prompts the reader to think about marginalised individuals, and consider how people relate to their family members, their friends, and the people they meet everyday. A worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member dudara
I first took note of Firmin when I saw that a person with a similar library profile on had recently added the book. It caught my interest from the get go, seeing as how it is that interesting thing, a book about books.

Here's a word of warning before you even pick this book up in
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the shop. It is heartbreakingly sad. Firmin is the runt of his litter, born to a drunken rat mother in the basement of Pembroke Books. Fed on a diet of shredded James Joyce, he develops a taste for literature and dares to dream above his position in life. Firmin becomes human through his fascination with our books, but his attempts to communicate are dashed everytime. Firmin just wants to be loved and even dreams of the "Lovelies" - the beautiful women who star in burlesque shows.

We watch the demolition of a historic part of Boston through the eyes of the rat, and mourn with him as the burlesque shows and shabby businesses are removed in the name of progress. It's amazing how the story of a human rat shows up the lack of humanity in humans.
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LibraryThing member ChazzW
For those voracious readers among us, Sam Savage holds a mirror up to our habits and desires. Firmin the rat is born in Boston’s now extinct Old Scollay Square where he lives in the basement of a bookstore. Tearing pages for his nest from books he begins to nibble and eventually develops a
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‘taste’ for literature. At first, most anything, then as his taste develops he moves through the world’s great literature.

Firmin is an ironic allegory of what it means to be human in a world that increasingly does not value the humanity in us. And even more to the point, of what it means to be a reader in a world that overwhelmingly looks upon readers as loners, outsiders.

For every reader who has at any time felt the need to defend his guilty pleasure.this is an absolute must read.
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LibraryThing member CarmenMilligan
I am a sucker for books whose main character is a member of the Muroidea superfamily of Rodentia. The protagonist, Firmin, shot this book to 3 looks on merit alone. However, I take issue with the writing of the book, most specifically the use of various and random vulgarities. It is completely
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unnecessary,and it feels that the author is doing it just to move his novel out of YA and into a more mature audience. It doesn't serve him well. I found this is be very distracting, adding no value to the story or voice of Firmin.

With that said, I have read many reviews that state that it is a sad novel. I didn't find it so at all. I felt that Firmin had an excellent life (lest we forget he is, after all, a rat). He had an excellent home, learned to read and understand books, made a friend, and was able to find fairly good meals. The fact that he settles down in the end to await his fate is not sad, but poignant. All his life, he has tried to rise above what he is. Finally, he comes to terms with the fact that he is not a man, not an author, not a dancer or pianist, but a rat. I found it to be rather fitting.

Despite the author's sophomoric style with his use of vulgarities, I found his writing to be witty and smart. I highlighted several words, and would consider this a word-building book. I would recommend it, but not if you are easily offended.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Although I was always turned off by animal stories (even those like Animal Farm or Watership Down that were allegories for our own or future society) as a younger reader, I couldn't resist asking for a review copy of a book that features a rat born in a bookstore. Basically, mention books in your
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jacket or marketing copy and you can reel me in hook, line and sinker. The good news is that this book did not disappoint. Firmin is born into a nest of shredded pages torn from Joyce's Ulysses. This, perhaps, makes it understandable that it is a bit of a struggle to get into the book initially. But persevere and the omnivorous reader is rewarded. Firmin tells of his life in books, both eating them and once he learns, in reading them. I definitely chuckled when our intrepid rat tastes toilet paper for the first time and discovers it to taste similarly to Emily Post's etiquette tomes. But Firmin is the book rat in all of us. His imagination, nutured by his reading, is writ large and oftentimes gets him into trouble. He sees the coming destruction of his neighborhood but prefers to stay oblivious, with his nose in a book. He is, in short, a furry scholar who can only shut out the real world for so long. And don't for one minute think he's limited to the highbrow. Oh no. He is also a connisseur of girlie movies, featuring women he calls his "Lovelies," shown at the local movie theater, which is also a treasure trove of food for a rat. Firmin is a funny and loveable character and the book is a small gem for eclectic readers.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
One dark night, a rat named Flo flees from humans into the basement of a bookstore in the Boston neighborhood of Scollay Square. There she makes a nest from the pages of discarded books and gives birth to thirteen baby rats…one of whom is Firmin. Firmin consumes books - literally - and grows into
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a rat who loves to read and philosophize about life. He explores the bookstore at night and watches its patrons from a ceiling fixture by day. Firmin longs to be human and to be able to communicate with the people he sees each day…especially Norman, the bookstore’s owner who later proves to be less than friendly to Firmin.

As the months of Firmin’s life pass, the neighborhood he calls home become threatened with imminent destruction (in fact, the real Scollay Square was demolished between 1960 and 1963 - the time period of the novel), and Firmin comes to meet a lumbering, largely unknown author named Jerry.

Firmin is alternately funny, insightful, and sad. Firmin’s observations of humans (and his love of literature) were the most enjoyable parts of the book.

Sam Savage’s slim novel about a literary rat tackles the larger issues of life and death, including seeking our dreams despite recognizing our limitations. For a reader like myself who loved Sylvester the Mouse with a Musical Ear by Adelaide Holl and The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this little book was quite an enjoyable and imaginative read.

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LibraryThing member juliebean
The premise of Sam Savage's "Firmin" is the kind that would draw in any bibliophile: it's the story a rat born in a bookshop, who discovers that he can read. The story is told from Firmin's point of view, and, as such, provides a somewhat novel perspective on the world. I say "somewhat", because
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Firmin's point of view is all too human, which is part of the tragedy of Firmin's existence; he can read, he can think about life in a human way, but he is trapped in the being of a rat. He can't speak - one of the most moving passages in the book is when he tries to give voice to his thoughts - and his lack of vocal ability means his living conditions are dictated solely by the whim of the humans around him, since he can't tell them how he feels or what he needs.

Firmin's story is filled with allusions, and making the connections between the text and its referents is interesting. The story is sad, although not quite "the saddest story I have ever heard", as Firmin calls it. It is written beautifully, and it has its touching moments. However, it is one of those works that has little staying power; it only provided a sad interlude in my reading. I doubt I will think of Firmin again, having finished this book.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
This is the story of a literature loving rat called Firmin who is born in a bookstore among the shredded remains of Finnigan’s Wake, and while feeding on the pages of various books discovers that he is able to read and understand the words. This ability changes the direction his life takes, and
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when his mother, brothers and sisters abandon the nest, he remains in the bookstore and enviously watches the humans come and go.

He develops real feelings for the humans that he watches, in particular the owner of the bookstore, Norman Shine, and Jerry Magoon, a down and out science fiction author. Being a rat he sometimes finds that he is not wanted and has to avoid traps and poison, but at others times he is able to develop a relationship with mutual regard. Firmin also likes to visit the Rialto Theatre for various reasons, the scavenging there is good, he loves the old movies that he sees there, in particular Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and after midnight he loves to watch the porn films that they show.

The story is told from Firmin’s point of view, he has dreams, ambitions and opinions and seeing the world from his perspective gives this book an interesting angle. This is a clever story, at times quite funny while at others rather sad and depressing. Like the life cycle of a rat, it is a short book, but also like Firmin himself, it is very stylish.
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LibraryThing member BooksOn23rd
This amazing book, written by first-time novelist Sam Savage, blew me away with its intelligent writing and perceptive looks into the human condition. Yes, it’s from a rat’s perspective. Don’t let that deter you from reading one of the best books of the past two years.
Firmin discovers that he
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lives in a bookshop basement in a run-down part of a city. He nibbles on the pages of the books, but also learns to read voraciously. He closely observes the world of the bookshop and ventures out to nearby buildings.
Firmin is born like any other being, naked and unknowing. His exploration of his surroundings and his attachment to things of familiarity ring true of the way we grow. His awareness of his own psyche is often humorous. His inability to converse with humans, an enormous obstacle to him, is poignant. His false belief that he has a connection with other beings is heartbreaking. All along, Firmin never stops trying.
This is a book I will re-read whenever I feel I’m getting too caught up in day-to-day chores. It will remind me to keep reaching out, no matter what the consequences.
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LibraryThing member VisibleGhost
Firmin is a rat. An ugly little runt rat. The first time he sees his reflection, he nearly hurls. Poor Firmin. He has human envy. He doesn't think much of other rats. He's a literary rat. In his memoir he mentions lots of great books. At times he is melancholy. At times he is dejected with his lot
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in life. At times he copes with firm rat resolve at his station in life. I have also read about Numbers, the Bible reading cockroach. The Roaches Have No King. I wonder what literary creature I'll read of next? I also wonder about my sanity sometimes.
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LibraryThing member phredfrancis
I grew increasingly impressed with this novel as I read it. I was a little uncertain in the opening chapters if the tale of a rat living in a Boston bookstore in 1960 was going to settle into an engaging narrative or whether it might continue trying to dazzle with cleverness and literary
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references. Luckily, it settled. The cleverness and the sense of being awash in literature persisted, but the viewpoint of the main character became more engaging as I read his story. By the end, I was exactly where the author wanted me, mourning the loss of a neighborhood I never knew and wishing that this very literate rodent could achieve some measure of the things he could imagine.

One little note about the clever "chewed cover" version of the book: Having a chunk cut from the thumb margin poses some practical problems during reading. It's difficult to get the hang of grasping the book on the upper or lower portions of the pages. While I applaud the marketing draw of the die-cut cover to simulate a rat-chewed book, it was kind of annoying at times.
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LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
Firmin is a rat born in the basement of a Scolley Square bookstore in Boston in the early 1960s. His mother is Firmin, Sam Savagean alcoholic and eventually deserts the family. Driven by hunger, Firmin makes a diet of Zane Grey, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Jane Eyre. Strangely, as Firmin eats,
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he takes in the words (and meanings), becoming an extremely literate rat.
Told from Firmin’s point of view, the book is by turns hilarious, tragic and hopeful. I really liked the story and loved the cover, with its bite-size medallion taken out of the side. Best cover of my year, I’m sure, and a great example of the need for print books.
Read this if: you love the classics, or books in general. Basically, if you’re reading this post, you should read Firmin. 4½ stars
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LibraryThing member boredd
This book is told by Firmin, a literate rat who resides in the basement of a bookstore and whose story is self-proclaimed as "the saddest story I have ever heard." Although his earliest encounters with literature consist of him chewing (literally) his way through books, he quickly develops a love
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for literature, and must reconcile this love with his own reality.

I loved the way this book was written. Told from the point of view of Firmin, the writing was both clever and beautiful, and at times when I was reading I wanted to jot down quotes from multiple paragraphs at a time, but quickly realized that if I did so I'd end up transcribing the entire book! I was drawn in by writing that, while describing situations with humor, at the same time was also profound.

You can read my full review at Rantings of a Bookworm Couch Potato.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
While I'm not as enthusiastic about this book as some other Early Reviewers, I enjoyed it more than I expected. I'm still not quite sure why I was chosen to receive it. I did request it, expecting something a bit more like a literary satire, but it's really a minor fantasy (I don't read fantasy)
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and a bittersweet comment on human nature and civilization--from a rat's point of view. I found the cutesy little bite mark to be a major irritation that made it difficult to hang onto the book comfortably while reading.
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LibraryThing member agirlandherbooks
Firmin is a novel very much in the somber -- some would say depressing -- tradition of Thomas Hardy. Born in the basement of a Boston bookstore, the 13th in a litter of rats finds by nibbling on books that, unlike his siblings, he can read, think and write (at least in his mind). Choosing to spend
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his life in the building where he was born, rather than set out for "up top," he reads widely, scrounges for food, and loves the humans in his building, whether or not they return his affection -- all while the neighborhood, Scollay Square, falls into decline and is slated for demolition. His intelligence is just as much a blessing as a curse, making him aware of his homely appearance, his inability to speak, and frequent reminders that humans view him as a pest, not a sentient being (such as the "goodbye zipper" debacle). Illustrations by Fernando Krahn not only flesh out Firmin for readers, but add a ghoulish note -- the black & white drawings accent the novel's bleak tone. A cover blurb from the Los Angeles Times refers to Firmin as a Dickensian hero, but with its conclusion, I see an inevitable comparison with Hardy's Jude Fawley.
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LibraryThing member thrashbash
I pitied the self-pitying rat Firmin because there is so much about him to pity. I wish I could give him a hug, but-- alas-- he dies in the end. Oops, sorry.
LibraryThing member FicusFan
I saw this book in the store and with the bite mark in the side and the title/subject I had to have it.

It was a short quick read. It was well written and a I loved Firmin the rat. Although he was able to read, and understand both spoken and written human language, he was still just a rat.

He didn't
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have any super-rat powers, and of course no way to communicate his thoughts, feelings or insights to humans. His rat brethren are just ordinary rats and not interested in humans. Humans are mostly not interested in rats, except to exterminate them.

The story is of how Firmin makes a life for himself that straddles human and rat life. He becomes attracted to human women through the movies, even though there is no hope of even meeting a woman, let alone any relationship.

The story seems to be using the rat as a metaphor for a quiet life of desperation, where no matter how much you know, if you are different, you will be alone and have to come to terms with the hard reality of life.

In short the book seemed to be: life sucks and then you die. While the book can have a message, it needs to actually have or complete the cover story that carries the message satisfactorily. It didn't.

There was no real completion of the story, it just ended with a fizzle. It was like getting all dressed up for a special event and then having no place to go.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Firmin is a rat, the runt of the litter to boot. He is all that rats are thought to be: an ugly scavenger. He is also nothing that a rat is supposed to be: he can read, he dreams and feels lonely.

This is the story of Firmin, who is isolated from his own kind by his intelligence, but unable to be
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generally accepted by the humans he has so much more in common with. It's a story of loneliness, ageing, seeing friends die and neighbourhoods levelled in the name of progress. It's a sad story but Firmin, as the narrator, brings a witty perspective with a caustic humour that I found engaging and highly imaginative.
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LibraryThing member Rubbah
Firmin is a book about a rat that learns to read through devouring books. His story is possibly the saddest I have ever read.
As a baby he is rejected by his family as the runt of the litter, his love for the bopokshop owner is unrequited and so on.
This book is truly original and should be read by
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LibraryThing member mybooksmylove
My Rating: A

My Review

When I first picked this book up and read the back I was quite suer I'd love it. It sounds like a book for anyone who loves to read just as much as I do. it also sounds a bit cutsie and fun.

While it is a 'fun' book, it's not at all cutsie. It can be very depressing at times and
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also it's a very adult book. I had visions of reading this to my friends kids'. No.

At first I was taken away by the expansive vocabulary used in this novel. As the story progresses it makes perfect sense for the main character to use such words. After a bit of struggle against the vocab to get into the book, the story really took me away. There were times when I was chasing down my friends to read passages to them and times when I was shushing them because the events taking place felt like they were actually affecting me. Exactly what you want in a novel.

The only issue I have with this novel is that multiple times the main character mentions being in a certain place, talking to a certain somewhere, that just doesn't fit into the story line. It did trip me up and kept me wondering what exactly that meant. Other than that I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books, or the idea of how a life can be lived. It's a relatively quick read, though not as quick as you may initially think. Unlike most quick reads it will most definitely stick with you.
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LibraryThing member bookmart
This runt of a rat learns to read by eating them and he also understand them! The story is about his life, initially in a bookshop, and the few humans he has contact with and the changing environment in the run down area in which he lives.
Although this is a strange plot line the author makes it
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plausible, or at least plausible engough to make it a good read.
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The Morning News Tournament of Books (Quarterfinalist — 2007)
Society of Midland Authors Award (Nominee — Adult Fiction — 2007)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2007)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

213 p.; 21 cm


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