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Nov 07, 2006



Ed - with all due respect, I took each of Firmin's references to "a guy he talked to in a bar" to be a sort of shorthand for his fantasy life: the same one where he seduces Ginger Rogers and wears a trenchcoat, the fantasy life (in which he is a human) that he admits to having early in the book. Firmin rapidly separates from the rat world in thought, but not in action. If he is somehow a dream of himself, most of the book doesn't make sense to me: hiding in the ceiling, crawling through walls, scavenging for popcorn, etc. It's an interesting idea to think of the fantasy-within-a-fantasy, of Firmin as some kind of feral, lonely person imagining he's a rat who's imagining he's a person, but I don't think it's there in the novel. I think Savage made Firmin "human" but not human: his thoughts, his existential predicament, are ours, but he's a real rat, alright.

But this does seem to be something there's a fair amount of debate about, so maybe I'm wrong and the boundaries are more fluid than that. The whole story is theoretically being "told" (though I think that's just a narrative construct, since Firmin has no one to tell this to and no way to write it down) as he's finally dying of old age, hallucinating while Scollay Square falls down around him. Who's to know which part is "real" fiction and which part is fictitious fiction? Firmin's either an unreliable narrator or confused about the nature of fact and fiction -- which makes sense since the realest part of his life has been spent in fictional worlds.

(Hmmm, I hope this doesn't have any application to litbloggers...)


I think Firmin is really a rat but I love the tangle that Ed's question gets us into.

This is not a realist novel. So, at some point we accept some things and dismiss others as fantasy. We accept a rat who can read but not one who can write; we accept a rat who befriends a person and learns sign language, but not one who talks. I find this all funny and magical and fascinating: it makes me want to go back to the exact moment in the book where, believing in a rat capable of literary judgment, I confidently reject the possibility of his talking ot a guy in the bar. What in the language signals that difference?

For me, what's important about the rat is that, like Kafka's cockroach, it exaggerates and dramatizes the poignant dilemma of any enthusiastic reader: the more we read, the more life pales in comparison and thus, the more we turn back to books, only to find life all the paler.


(All of which is to say that, yes, Jessica, alas, I think the application to litbloggers is pretty definitively spot on! : ) )

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