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

By Elizabeth Contos in Poetry & Literature

Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

There are many small, overlooked things in life. Some trail along the ground in silence, hide under leaves, and carry their own houses.

Others can be found tucked away on a shelf in a library, which is where I found Sound of a Wild Snail.

The book itself is small. Small and odd and seemingly uninteresting. Who is jumping to read a book with a title like The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, anyway?

I must confess I was not. But, it was something different, and they say variety is the spice of life, so I began.

The book is an autobiography of sorts, revolving around the author’s severe and unknown illness, which she contracted overseas. It left her bedridden for years. She was struggling to cope with loneliness, to find meaning and hope.

Then, the snail.

A friend brings her a pot of wildflowers from the forest near her house. Amidst the flowers is a snail, which Bailey begins to observe. After all, when you are in bed, ill, and short on visitors, you have plenty of time.

Something happens as Bailey watches her little roommate. She becomes absorbed, invested. And from her observations springs a well of fascinating ponderings.

Though Bailey’s thoughts mainly involve the snail, they encompass so much more. As we join her to look at the creature, we begin to see the importance of something so small and underappreciated. Deep questions are unearthed and explored – questions about significance, life, adaptation, and survival. Bailey draws fascinating parallels between her life and the snail’s, parallels that make them akin, equal, striving for the same fundamental goals, sharing the same experiences – eating, sleeping, resting, exploring, mating, growing, changing.

The book is well researched and contains many thoughts from other writers throughout the centuries. Biologists, poets and historians add to and augment the authors own findings. The scope of this little book grows broad indeed.

It is a humbling story. When we stop to look at something, we begin to learn. And through the learning process we discover truths about ourselves. In this case, it is a snail which humbles, yet a snail which brings such a sense of purpose, a snail that infuses interest into the soul of someone who is alone.

And the book, in the end, is like the creature in it’s title – tiny, sobering, incredibly profound. This is more than just a story about a sick woman and a wild snail – it is a story of victory, of definition, of investing in one’s own natural habitat. It is a frank observation on the brevity of life. It is a look into a thoughtful, interested mind and into the history of nature itself.

Don’t hesitate. Take up your magnifying glass and observe this little specimen. You may find something far bigger than you ever would have dreamed.