Book Review: The Sound of Wild Snail Eating

Elisabeth Bailey, bedridden for years with a debilitating disease, becomes enamored of a snail her friend brings to her on a whim. Bailey’s forced immobility allows her an intense observation of and intimate connection with this whimsical creature who lives Zen-like by her side in her deepest isolation.

The best parts of the book describe her bemused discoveries of the snail’s minute adventures and how watching its graceful activities keep her “spirit from evaporating”. I laughed out loud when she found the snail had left perfectly square bite marks in papers she left around or the apparent contented emotions it conveyed in the energetic movement of its tentacles. Most striking was the way constant observation of snail’s methodic, gliding pace made her perceive human movement and emotion differently. Her occasional visitors suddenly appeared erratic and careless in the way they moved their bodies.

Bailey draws on the writings of 18th and 19th century naturalists to add context to her own observations and while at times the excerpts can feel a bit “lit-reviewy”, they show that Bailey isn’t the only person who’s found a mystical quality in the whorl of a snail shell. That she was prevented from sliding into despair by this small creature demonstrates the humility and wonder nature can provide to us clumsy bipeds if we only pay attention.

In the book, Bailey also mentions this memorable scene from the documentary Microcosmos that shows how amorous snails are. Should it be labeled NSFW? :).