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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review: Firmin by Sam Savage

This book was recommended to me 3 years ago by a used bookstore owner on Nantucket. It's about a rat who lives in a Bookstore, therefore everyone who loves bookstores should love it, or so the theory goes.

It's set in 1970s (I think) Boston, in a seedy neighborhood called Scolley Square on the eve of its demise. Fermin is the runt of the litter, and unlike his siblings he doesn't leave the bookstore when he grows up. He loves to read (and eat paper). He has an inventive imaginative life where he looks like Fred Astaire and is a writer. Eventually he does venture out, is injured, and is adopted by a bookstore regular/author who lives upstairs from the bookstore.

The book has a very distinctive voice. The author is very consistent with his character, in that Firmin can't talk or even have the strength to type (although when he was thinking of that notion happy memories of Anatole floated through my head.) He's not anthropomorphized aside from his reading. He's definitely still very much a real rat. But as one would expect from a rat's life, there's not much to it. Even the sights he witnesses aren't very fascinating. When the bookstore's block is finally condemned by the city and it's forced to close, I was expecting it to go out with more of a bang, but there's just an interesting last-day sale, and that's it. The author is hurt in a fall and possibly dies and Firmin has to venture out again. But he returns and stays in the building until it is demolished.

I enjoyed a lot of the book. I loved how different books have such different tastes. He has preferences for different publishers, but also individual authors and titles have their own flavors. It was sweet how much he cared about the bookstore and how he watched the daily goings on. I also enjoyed his sojourns out to the movie theater and his talk of "the Lovelies" was amusing. But in the end, I'm not sure what the plot or the point was. It's a very different perspective of a place and an era gone by without much recognition, and that I really appreciated. It's sweet and slight, but it's just the short story of a rat's life in a bookstore. Honestly, the bookstore I worked in was more interesting. So while I liked it okay, nothing really bothered or annoyed me, there was also not much to hang on to. If it hadn't been so short, I don't know that I would have even liked it as much as I did.

A fellow reader also wanted me to point out that this edition, the paperback from Random House, has a funny bite taken out of the side that goes all the way through the book. It did make me laugh when I first picked it up and I thought it was clever, but she found it really annoying to hold. Again, if it had been longer it probably would have bugged me, but I managed it just fine as it is.
Thanks to Random House for my copy.

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