Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

"Inches from my bed  and from each other stood the terrarium and a clock.  While life in the terrarium flourished, time ticked away its seconds.  But the relationship between time and the snail confused me.  The snail would make its way through the terrarium while the hand of the clock barely moved--so I thought the snail traveled  faster than time. Then, absorbed in snail watching, I'd find that time had flown by, unnoticed.

The above is an excerpt from the latest book I am reading, "The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating" by Elizabeth Tova Bailey.  In all honesty, I probably would not have purchased this book by title alone, but after reading a review it sounded interesting, and I decided to give it a try if I found it on Kindle.  It was, and you know the rest.  I downloaded the sample chapter and bought the book before I even finished reading it.  Since that time, it has been hard to put it down.

The book is a memoir of a year in the author's life which begins when she, a young vibrant woman, travels on vacation to a foreign country and picks up a virulent virus which wrecks havoc on her body and leaves her with a mysterious neurological disorder that leaves her bedridden, unable to sit up for more than a few seconds at a time.

"Survival depends on a specific focus: A relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind invisible for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house."

Then, quite unexpectedly, a friend brings her a pot of violets in which she had placed a small, woodland snail.  Disturbed, at first, that the creature had been moved from its natural habitat, the author begins to watch it move and becomes fascinated with its journeys. Eventually, her caretaker moves the snail into a terrarium where it settles and lays eggs.  The snail is mostly silent, but during the night,in the silence of her room,  the author can sometimes hear it munching on the flower petals.

"The sound was of someone very small munching celery continuously...the tiny intimate sound of the snail's eating gave me a distinct feeling of companionship and shared space."

What follows is a wonderful story of survival and resilience as the  finds comfort in its company and begins  to study it, drawing drawing strength and inspiration from this tiny little creature which gave her a reason to go on.  This book gives one a great appreciation for life and reminds us how much we miss when we forget to slow down. If you haven't read it, do so.  It will give you an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.
There is a certain depth of illness that is piercing in its isolation; the only rule of existence is uncertainty, and the only movement is the passage of time. One can not bear to live through another loss of function, and sometimes friends and family can not bear to watch. An unspoken, unbridgeable divide may widen. Even if you are still who you were, you cannot actually fully be who you are. Sometimes the people you know well withdraw, and then even the person you know as yourself begins to change.
There were times when I wished that my viral invader had claimed me completely. How much better to live an exuberant life and then leave as one exits a party, simply opening a door and stepping out. Instead, the virus took me to the edge of life and then left me trapped  in its pernicious shadow, with symptoms that, barely tolerable one day, become too severe the next, and with the unjustness of unexpected relapses, that, overnight, erased years of gradual improvement.


  1. Munch, munch, munch . . . sounds good!

  2. Thank you for posting about that book, for it sounds like a book in which I'd like to read.

    I'm always moving slowly through life it seems, for I feel more at peace when doing so.

  3. Wrote it down Mary...sounds like a great book!
    Thanks for sharing it with us. :)