This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
The first chapter of Firmin is wonderful. I was immediately charmed by Firmin as he gushed over literature. I laughed as he described his inability to create a good first sentence for a book, and smiled bitterly when the book began in earnest with "This is the saddest story I have ever heard". Unfortunately for Firmin (and to some extent, me) it was pretty true. Watching Firmin struggle to be accepted by humanity only to be kicked aside, poisoned, ignored, or patronized was heartbreaking.
Maybe not surprisingly, Firmin had a difficult time maintaining the same level of excellence that I experienced in the first dozen pages. While the book was good, on the whole, it simply fell flat for the most part. The story of what actually happened was not bad, merely mundane and ordinary next to the fantastic opening and tragic ending. Still, the tone was consistent, and the periodic asides in which Firmin would speak directly to the reader were charming and enjoyable. In general, I found the book to be pleasantly intimate as it felt as though Firmin were telling the story to me directly, with no distance between us.
I do not know if this is possible, but I would describe the style as a light-hearted or playful Dostoyevsky. There was an oppressive loneliness throughout that reminded me of Crime and Punishment, but at the same time it was full of sarcasm and wit. For example, in the first chapter when describing his obsession over beautiful women he says "And what difference does it make in the end? A hopeless cause is a hopeless cause. But I won"t obsess about that now. I"ll obsess about it later" (8). I could cite dozens more, especially the fake book titles he would throw out in response to an event that was occurring, but suffice it to say that in spite of the loneliness, Firmin never lost his wit.
The ending was powerful. Firmin, left alone after the death of Jerry and in a state of delirium
(I say delirium because, after all, he has a vision of Ginger Rogers giving him a striptease during which he is both man and rat. I assume this man/rat duplicity because during the scene he is described as being as tall as a man, then fitting between her breasts, and at one point she says "You believe you are a rat". If this is not what this implies, I am at a loss. Upon further reflection - I am actually adding this on April 10th, after having an epiphany reading I Am a Cat - I think it might be possible that Firmin was actually Jerry. I say this not only because of the split personality in this scene but because there are multiple times that Firmin refers to speaking to someone in a bar. Jerry is the only other character we know of to frequent a bar. Also, we know that Jerry is writing a book about a rat - a book I propose is the one we are currently reading. Finally, Firmin is effectively dead after Jerry has the stroke, which would make sense if Jerry is Firmin)
Firmin crawls to the basement where he seeks out his birthplace. There, he reads the following from Finnegans Wake: "But I"m loothing them that"s here and all I lothe. Loonely in me loneness. For all their faults. I am passing out. O bitter ending! They"ll never see. Nor know. Nor miss me. And it"s old and old it"s sad and old it"s sad and weary." Firmin will be missed by no one, for no one knew him. His life, so unique and full of passion will amount to nothing. He will have added nothing to the world and will not even be forgotten because he was never known. Depressing, yes, but also powerful.
With that said, however, I would not recommend this book to anyone other than a book lover. Even then, it may just be the first chapter that is worth reading. Anyone who does finish it, however, will have read a good book that was unique and entertaining, if not depressing. Yet at the point of decision I am waffling. It may not be on the top of a list of books you must read (or as Firmin would say) - it may not be a Great One - but it is a good one and for anyone who is seeking a book to read that is quick, charming, sad, witty, and sarcastic, you should definitely give Firmin a try.
Sam Savage in Firmin
"I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: something lyric like Nabokov's 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins'; or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy's 'All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'"Sam Savage the First Line of Firmin
Sam Savage the Last Line of in Firmin