I bought this book while I was still working at Waterstone’s on the recommendation of my manager, who had quite cool taste in books. Sometimes a little too cool for me, and I haven’t always enjoyed his recommendations and I was worried that this would be the same.
Firmin is a rat, born as the runt of a litter of fifteen. In order to prevent himself from succumbing to starvation, he starts to munch on pages of books he finds lying around in the dank basement he’s living in. Eventually he starts to notice that the more books he nibbles on, the more his intellect seems to develop. As his brothers and sisters leave the nest for lives of debauchery, Firmin decides to stay where he is, and soon discovers that he is living in the basement of a bookshop, and the rest of the novel is about his adventures here.
The reason I thought I wouldn’t enjoy this is that at first, Firmin seems to be snobby and self-indulgent, but he’s also charming and funny (and a bit of a pervert), and it’s really sweet to see the world through his eyes, even though it sometimes has horrible results. One part I really liked involves the owner of the bookshop, who Firmin adores. He has read a book on Phrenology and decides that the owner is a good man based on the shape of his skull. However unfortunately for Firmin, he can only see the very top of the man’s skull from his vantage point on the ceiling, and so he doesn’t know that he also has a destructive streak and he then tries to poison Firmin.
It also had some really sad moments, especially towards the end of the novel. Throughout, Firmin has imagined himself to be an adventurer, but he is still relatively fragile and alone, and it was really sad to see him disintegrating as the decrepit street around him is slowly demolished.
Next: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl