Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

^z 4th February 2024 at 12:28pm

Elisabeth Tova Bailey's slim little book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a fast-reading slow-motion film, closely-observed and beautifully-written. It glows with attention paid to the minute maneuvers of a wee fellow creature. Yet somehow, the book doesn't satisfy. Why?

  • Perhaps it's the unrelenting first-person narrative, with hardly a paragraph in which the author steps off center stage?
  • Perhaps it's the ultimately-monotonous musing over the mundane and microscopic, the piling-on of detail without development?
  • Perhaps it's language that tiptoes toward poetry but then pauses, like cymbals struck yet too-soon damped to silence?
  • Perhaps it's the Epilogue, wherein it is revealed that the seemingly-factual tapestry woven in the previous 22 short chapters is actually semi-fictional ("... I have merged that story and a few nonsocial stories with my later scientific readings ..."), a confession that abruptly deflates narrative tension?
  • Perhaps it's self-pity by the author, surfacing shyly between stoic passages, that takes the oxygen out of what could have been a moving tragedy?
  • Perhaps its a tone-deaf sense of entitlement, wealth, and servants unnamed who support the writer while she lies in bed recovering from illness?

Or maybe Snail is just an extraordinarily fine short essay that was force-fed to grow into book length. And maybe it's best to cherish it as that. Bailey brings to mind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Baby, plus bits of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species and Verlyn Klinkenborg's Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile. Good company to keep!

^z - 2015-10-24