Firmin by Sam Savage

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Firmin by Sam Savage
Buy Firmin from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Firmin from Amazon.com

Genre: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Karen Inskip-Hayward
Reviewed by Karen Inskip-Hayward
Summary: Rather hard to get into the style at first, but worth persevering for an enjoyable and quite profound read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 978-0297854586

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I was looking forward to reading this book, because I love rats. I kept pet rats for many years and they are intelligent creatures with great personality. I get increasingly fed up with reading books where rats are portrayed as evil carriers of disease who are dirty and dangerous. I was hoping Firmin would be something different - and it is.

Firmin is a male rat and the book is his life story. He is rather a unique rat. After discovering that books taste rather nice, he begins to love them, eventually discovering they are even better to read than they are to eat! Living above a bookshop means he has plenty of chances to explore and soon, his interests widen and he becomes knowledgable on a variety of subjects, as he reads more and more of the books there.

Growing away from his dysfunctional family, he prefers a human world, first spending hours observing Norman, the owner of the bookshop. Later on, he lives with Jerry Magoon and sees a close-up view of life with a human. He reads the local newspaper and becomes concerned with the state of the city too, as things seem to be falling apart.

But while being a unique kind of rat living in a human world, he retains his rat-like characteristics. He doesn't talk to humans (Well, he does, but they only hear squeaks) or wear clothes. He scurries round foraging for food, moves like a rat, tries to avoid traffic and enjoys watching Ginger Rogers films at the local cinema. Well, okay, the last one's a bit different.

Firmin is a great character and very easy to like. He isn't perfect, of course, but his faults are pretty cute too. As the story is told from his point of view, you get inside his mind very quickly and see the world from his perspective - often high up, from a small space.

The book has a cute picture of Firmin on the cover and has a few black and white illustrations dotted in the pages, as well as regular appearances of tiny rats drawn throughout. At first glance, you would expect this to be a book for kids - but it isn't. I wouldn't give this to kids aged under fifteen or so. It contains swearing, sex and adult themes and the tone is often rather dark and depressing.

In some ways, this lack of obvious market may make this novel less successful than it deserves to be. I'm not sure some adults would be happy to be seen reading what looks like a kids' book - yet it isn't suitable for children because of the content. I think both men and women would enjoy this book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves rats or books. It is peppered with literary references and I enjoyed these.

The writing is often extremely clever. At times, it is very funny and it is also depressing in equal measure, but well worth a read. I did find it hard to get into at first, as the author Sam Savage has quite a stylised way of writing, but once you get into it, it is easy to read and enjoyable.

The book is only 181 pages long, so can be read in a few days. I hope there will be other similar books written by Savage, as I would like to read more of his work. Firmin is a great character and one which I will remember. Like a good friend, I felt a pang of sadness shutting the book for the last time and bidding farewell to my new little rat friend.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Younger readers who enjoy stories about rats are sure to enjoy The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett whilst adults who enjoy this type of book will love Fup by Jim Dodge.

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