Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by Algonquin Books for review. The views expressed here are honest and are in no way influenced by the author or the publishers.
Synopsis via Goodreads
A woman, confined to her bed, watches a snail, first on her night stand, then in a terrarium next to the bed. The limited world of the snail mirrors the limitations of her own and the reader learns, along with the author, about a creature either despised for its presence in the garden or admired for its taste with beurre blanc—but is otherwise rather a mystery. What follows is an oddly compelling story of a woman who finds companionship and beauty in the most unexpected of creatures.
The Sound of Wild Snail Eating is not your typical memoir or inspirational novel. Nor will you expect to hear much talk about finding God in between these pages. Elisabeth Tova Bailey takes us on a brief journey through her life and the mysterious disease that leaves her in a state of paralysis. Not being able to stand or walk or even sit up in bed, you would think that her life was over and yet when she begins observing the life of a small woodland snail, she finds meaning not only in herself but in our own species.
I really enjoyed reading this story even though it is based entirely on snail watching. I did not know much about the book before I contacted the publisher and even if you read the synopsis, you would still be surprised by the story in front of you. The Sound of Wild Snail Eating is a truly quirky memoir and Bailey is a very resilient, courageous woman. It was painful reading about how debilitating her mysterious disease left her. Even worse was reading the epilogue and having bailey describing her numerous diagnoses. I couldn’t help but think how I would handle the situation if it were me. However bailey has the spirit of a lion and she found a renewed sense of purpose from her observations. It was a joy to read about her discoveries with the snail and subsequently her own personal revelations about life.
For a book whose pace threaten to be s….l….o….w, I thought that this book was a fast read since most of the chapters are short and the prose is quick and flows nicely with the story. Bailey is very descriptive and rightly so since she’s involved in participant observation. There were times when this book felt like a documentary into the life of a snail rather than a memoir. Bailey covered everything from the anatomy of the snail to its eating habits and even their reproductive traits. The reader learns a lot as well for example:
“Spiral direction has an impact on relationships; a snail must find a mate of its species with a matching shell.” pg 64Yet you are quickly reminded of Bailey’s presence in the novel when she makes comparisons between her present medical condition and the snail. Aside from the therapeutic qualities that this snail brought to bailey, I honestly think that her research will prove instrumental in the study of Neohelix albolaris or the woodland snail.
After reading this book, perhaps you’ll come away with a great appreciation for snails or perhaps you’ll come away with a great appreciation for life itself. What’s guaranteed is that you will come away thinking that this is a great story and Elisabeth Tova Bailey is a courageous woman.