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Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey


What a beautiful book. It's one of those that people describe as "a gem." It's also fascinating. I kept reading snippets aloud to J, much to his consternation.

Elisabeth has a mysterious and debilitating illness, and she's had it for years. During a relapse, while she is too debilitated to even sit up, a friend brings her a snail as a companion. At first she doesn't understand what on earth she's going to do with a snail, but as the days pass, Elisabeth discovers watching the snail to be a meditative and interesting way to pass the time. As she becomes invested, she even does some research to find out things like why are the bites a snail leaves perfect squares (due to the configuration of the 800 rows of 33 teeth they have. Yes, you read that right. That's over 2600 teeth.) Did you know some species of snail are predatory or even cannibalistic? Woodland snails are hermaphrodites and can reproduce on their own if need be. Most snail shells have a right-hand opening, but some are left-hand, and right snails only mate with right snails, and left snails only mate with left snails. Slugs were once snails, but evolved to not need to carry their house (scary to think slugs are the creatures more highly evolved!) The excerpt from "Experiments to Test the Strength of Snails" made me laugh out loud! While noses are the only part of a person associated with mucus, they are the only part of a snail that does not have mucus on it.

Amidst all these fun facts are meditations on life. What is one's life worth when it consists of merely lying on a bed? When one can't participate in daily life, how can life remain valuable? Snails can go dormant, and even hibernate for years if conditions are not favorable - something Elisabeth feels like she is going through unwillingly. The parallels between the languid, quiet life of a snail and of Elisabeth become more profound as the book continues. As her conditions improves and she feels she is coming back to life, similarly one day she finds the snail has laid eggs - life quite literally continuing.

This book was stunning. A contemplative treatise on what defines life, I was touched and affected by Ms. Bailey's condition, and the precious result of it this book is.

4 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This sounds like an incredible story! Great review!!

Jo said...

Great review! I just finished this book and thought it was wonderful -- seriously contemplating buying a few copies to give as gifts.

Amy said...

This is a fantastic & interesting review! The info about snails is fascinating. I'm also intrigued by the main character. And I love the cover, something about it is so soothing.

Thank you! This book is going on my tbr list!

~ Amy

christa @ mental foodie said...

sounds very intriguing! I'm in need of a good book, will give it a try :)