My Book Club Recommends: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

by Elisabeth Tova Baileysound-of-a-wild-snail-eating

Reviewed by Penelope Tinsley


When the author of this charming little story was stricken by a peculiar virus she was confined to bed, and too weak to continue with the life she had known prior. Over the months that dragged out for her, friends brought her support and diversions, including a terrarium containing a cyclamen and the small wild snail of the book’s title.

Elisabeth escapes into the snail’s world; observing its habits, watching its interactions with the safe but limited environment it had, and even hearing it eating during her sleepless nights. It provides the reader the opportunity to slow down also and appreciate the minutiae of the lives these two were sharing.

Mirroring the events of 2020, Elisabeth’s sudden incapacity parallels the catastrophic change brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how valuable the opportunity to observe for a while without endeavouring to interfere and control events is. Elisabeth learns as much about herself as the snail, exploring ways to make it content, as well as managing her own pain, anxiety and frustrations. The story, restoring her health and connection with the natural world, is an apt pointer for our own community wellbeing. There are moments of humour, warmth, sadness and resignation described in elegant, perceptive language — extremely engaging for the reader.

A particularly lovely spot in the story came towards the end of the book, when the wild snail was released into the natural world, showing Elisabeth's affection, and the respect and empathy she had learned. It suggests a desire to contribute to the regeration of a troubled world (although I know a lot of gardeners who would disagree!)

When our book group first encountered this story, early in our relationship with Book Discussion Scheme, our very articulate (and opinionated!) membership were sharply divided on the merits of this tale. Most disliked it with a passion because the pace and content were literary rather than dramatic, but I suspect that, were they to read it now, after more than four years of discussion (OK, argument) and more sophisticated skills in analysis, the opinion would be quite different.

Two of us in the group had had experiences akin to Elisabeth’s and would have loved the diversion from pain and immobility offered by Elisabeth’s companion. I bought a copy for my own collection.

I recommend this little masterpiece highly to all those who need, want, and can appreciate the opportunity to step off the merry-go-round of our frenetic lives and enjoy the beauty of the world as it might be. It’s a chance not to be missed.


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