This book is told by Firmin, a literate rat who resides in the basement of a bookstore and whose story is self-proclaimed as "the saddest story I have ever heard." Although his earliest encounters with literature consist of him chewing (literally) his way through books, he quickly develops a love for literature, and must reconcile this love with his own reality.
I loved the way this book was written. Told from the point of view of Firmin, the writing was both clever and beautiful, and at times when I was reading I wanted to jot down quotes from multiple paragraphs at a time, but quickly realized that if I did so I'd end up transcribing the entire book! I was drawn in by writing that, while describing situations with humor, at the same time was also profound. Here is one of countless examples where the writing made me sympathize with Firmin and drew me in:
Loquacious to the point of chatter, I was condemned to silence. The fact is, I had no voice. All the beautiful sentences flying around in my head like butterflies were in fact flying in a cage they could never get out of. All the lovely words that I mulled and mouthed in the strangled silence of my thoughts were as useless as the thousands, perhaps millions, of words that I had torn from books and swallowed, the incohesive fragments of entire novels, plays, epic poems, intimate diaries, and scandalous confessions--all down the tube, mute, useless, and wasted. (p40)In addition to the language, there were many times in the book when I was reading and my heart just went out to Firmin - I guess I'd like to call this the "aw" factor. There were also times, especially towards the end of the novel, when a scene and Firmin's reaction to it were built up to and described so well that I could just see it happening in incredible detail in my head - both the event and Firmin's reactions to it.
The setting in Boston was also interesting for me, as I live here and have been to most of the places described in the book, albeit more than 40 years later. Regardless, the changes happening at Scollay Square at the time when the book takes place provide an interesting backdrop to the novel and help drive some of the action in the plot.
For a relatively short book, this one was packed full of clever writing and managed to make me sympathize with a rat. I'd definitely recomend it to anyone who enjoys clever writing and fiction relating to literature. I had high expectations coming into this book, and they were actually met, which was a delightful surprise!
Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the book - not as witty as some other quotes I could have chosen, but it stood out when I came across it, in a book where many many lines stood out.
"Everyone has two jobs, Firmin, a day job and a night job, because everyone has two sides, a dark and a light. You do, they do, I do. No one can escape it." (p159)