I figured I'd read a few pages to see if it was worth moving it up in the TBR queue. I started reading it in bed the other night (I hardly ever read in bed), and turned out the light 2 hours later, having finished one of the most beautiful stories I'd read in a long time.
The story is not complicated, but since it deals with life and all it's ups and downs, the simplicity of the story is deceiving. The author, a vibrant outdoorsy young woman is stricken with a disastrous microbacterial disease while visiting Europe. She manages to return home just before becoming almost completely parazlyzed, and spends the next several years in varying degrees of immobilized existence. She can't stand for longer than a few seconds, she has periods where she can't move a muscle, not because she's in pain, but because her neurological system is totally out of whack. She is completely dependent on others for her daily needs.
While she is housebound in a very sterile white room, where she cannot even see out a window, a friend brings her a potted wood violet, dug from her own yard, and with it, a common land snail to live in this tiny ecosystem on the table near her bed.
Day after day, as she watches the snail slowly make its way through life, at about the same pace she seems to be living, she becomes fascinated with everything about the snail. She sends for books about snails and immerses herself in how it moves, how it eats, when it sleeps, how it procreates (snails are hermaphrodites). There's a lot of science packed into the 125 pages, but she manages to present it in a layman's prose that makes it not only understandable, but elegant. In addition, Bailey starts each short chapter with a quote about time and/or snails. For example, "The velocity of the ill however, is like that of the snail."....Emily Dickson. After all, watching and listening to snails is an exercise of time. Bailey says....
Then absorbed in snail watching, I'd find that time had flown by unnoticed....The mountain of things I felt I needed to do reached the moon, yet there was little I could do about anything, and time continued to drag me along its path. We are all hostages of time. We each have the same number of minutes and hours to live within a day, yet to me it didn't feel equally doled out. My illness brought me such an abundance of time, that time was nearly all I had...it was perplexing how in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose. p. 31.Watching the snail gives her courage. Learning about the snail's biology gives her insight into her own humanity. The story gives us all a chance to step back, and like the snail, smell the world around us, take things one small slimey step at a time, and offer thanks for the wonders of what we are given.
A solid sweet beautiful book. It will be one to return to periodically, a lovely gift for a shut in (perhaps with a snail garden attached!) or an able bodied person who would relish an excuse to stop the world for just a short time. I'm so glad I received that nudge to go dig it from the Nook shelves. It certainly makes me wonder what other gems are buried in those piles, both physical and electronic.
Title: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
Author: Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2010), electronic edition 125 pages
Subject: snails and illness
Source: my own shelves
Why did I read this book now? I read a review which prompted me to pull my copy off the shelf.