Some writers can never equal their first novel. I could never equal my first sentence. And look at me now. Look how I have begun this, my final work, my opus: ‘I had always imagined that my life story, if and when…’ Good God, ‘if and when’! You see the problem. Hopeless. Scratch it.
Firmin: Adventures of A Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage
So begins our eponymous narrator.
Firmin is an erudite lowlife with a taste for literature, popcorn and pornography. He is also a rat, of the literal, grey fur, bewhiskered variety. Born the runt of the litter in the basement of a bookshop, and forced to eat books to survive, he finds that the words have a strange effect upon him. Because for all Firmin looks like a rat to the outside world, he has a sophisticated Fred Astaire style character inside him just dying to get out- the books he’s read have made him intelligent and articulate, a rodent with a poet’s soul.
The concept of a book loving rat living in a bookshop in Boston is, on the surface, a cheery Disney-style image, but Firmin rejects the idea of the Disney mouse (“I piss down the throats of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fishbones”) and replaces it with Sam Savage’s rat, a far more poignant character. Because life as a literary rat is incredibly lonely, isolated from your own species and regarded as vermin by most humans, what’s the best that you can hope for?
Firmin is far from fluffy, at times he is repulsive- but I found myself rooting for the little guy all the same. I found myself laughing aghast at his dangerous naivety, and crying at his humanity because for all Sam Savage has shaped his narrator in a rodent’s body, where it counts he is one of the most human characters I’ve read in a long time.