“Illness isolates; the isolated become invisible; the invisible become forgotten. But the snail… the snail kept my spirit from evaporating.”
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a unique and beautiful story of Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s observations of a snail that made a home on her nightstand. A mysterious illness drastically changes Elizabeth’s life, keeping her bedridden and detached from everything that once brought familiarity and comfort. The lack of mobility results in isolation and lengthy days, with a common woodland snail as an unexpected form of fascination and interest.
“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. My friends had so little time that I often wished I could give them what time I could not use. It was perplexing how in losing health I had gained something so coveted but to so little purpose.”
With the illness, Elizabeth lacked the strength to hold a book and was sensitive to the noisiness of a television, so the little snail was a welcome and surprising new companion. The book is incredibly well written and a provides a nice, quiet journey. The focus is mainly on the snail and the author’s observations, along with everything she learns about the snail from her research. Elizabeth’s illness and other people are more in the background, which results in a very powerful story as a whole. One that is a beautiful message of finding connection and hope in the midst of incredible loss.
“Survival often 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 but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house.”
“Though her mind is still sharp, Elizabeth’s eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills the void with music and memories of her family—a past that suddenly becomes all too present when her late father’s journals are found amid the ruins of an old shipwreck.”
Elizabeth’s past is both painful and heartbreaking, with many questions that she never got answers to while growing up on Porphyry Island on Lake Superior. The discovery of her late father’s journals may possibly bring answers and closure to some difficult chapters in her life. Around the time the journals make their way back into her life, she meets Morgan, a teenage girl doing community service at Elizabeth’s retirement home. The two strike up a rapport and Morgan takes up the task of reading the journal entries to Elizabeth, which leads to the uncovering of long buried secrets and an unexpected connection between Morgan and Elizabeth.
The Lightkeeper’s Daughters is told from the perspectives of both Elizabeth and Morgan. We slowly learn about the past of each character, but the majority of the novel is Elizabeth recounting her life on Porphyry Island with her twin sister, two brothers, and parents. It took me a little while to get into the story, but once it came to Elizabeth’s flashbacks I was completely immersed in the events that unfolded. The environment and solitude of the island is really well portrayed and it is easy to imagine the lives and challenges faced by the family. There is a mystery aspect to the novel that carries the story forward and adds to the overall intrigue. A lot is unveiled towards the end, and while it is interesting I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit overly complicated, and as a result lacked the punch of a good reveal. The premise, setting, and descriptions are well done and there is a lot to be enjoyed with this novel, although the resolution and conclusion ultimately felt unsatisfying and unnecessarily intricate.