Dan Rhodes, author of Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey once said that
"it isn't easy writing about dogs. I can understand why Mark Haddon put a garden fork through his in chapter one. It isn't always easy reading about them either – I've met several Paul Auster fans who needed reconstructive dental surgery after attempting Timbuktu."
It isn't always easy reading about any animal story pitched at adults: animal narrators, though common (and often beautifully executed) in children's books, can be a difficult thing to pull off for grown-ups. For every Fup (Jim Dodge's tale of a duck) you have a Timbuktu, for each Timeoleon Veta Come Home, a Life of Pi (didn't like this one, sorry). Sam Savage's Firmin thankfully falls into the latter category (that is, an animal story for adults that is very, very good).
Born the runt of a litter of rats and having to fend for himself, Firmin takes refuge in an independent bookshop and, nibbling on his bedding (a shredded copy of the "Great Book"), discovers he can read. Thus Firman begins a lifelong love-affair with literature. He'll ingest anything as long as it does not contain other rodents: "I despise good-natured Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. I piss down the throat of Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little. Affable, shuffling, cute, they stick in my craw like fish-bones." Savage has a background in philosophy and while Firmin raises more questions than it answers ("Firmin"is a play on vermin and furman), this little book is a bibliophile's dream.
Firmin by Sam Savage
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, available in-store