I spotted Patrik Svensson’s The Book of Eels in the window of The Mulberry Bush Bookstore in Qualicum Beach, BC. I was on a Gone Viking road trip and book tour, a perfect opportunity to find other new titles and support our inspiringly resilient independent booksellers. At the till the store owner and I exhausted our repertoire of one-liners: “Not another book about eels?!” “So, will you keep this alongside all your other eel books?” And with a smile, I took my new green-hued trade paperback to the beach.
The Book of Eels is one of last year’s New York Times Top 100 Notable Books. (I’m a sucker for decorated books.) In this case, the award is well earned. Svensson weaves a captivating narrative, chapters alternating between personal memoirs and a zoological analysis of the mysterious eel, one of the most studied and yet enigmatic creatures in the animal kingdom. Metaphors abound, but like the elusive, water-mottled protagonist of this nonfiction story, nothing is obvious, only there, perhaps, if you care to see it. The writing, even through translation from Swedish, is engaging and efficient. It is some of the finest travel-adjacent literature I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Through it all a methodical and progressive revealing of personal experience, and growth, not unlike the selective sexual maturation, fluidity and somewhat open-ended life cycle of an eel.
From the philosophy and analytics of Aristotle and Freud to fishing weirs and the cutting edge science of modern-day commerce, we find the eel ever-present and timelessly evasive, its life beginning and ending, we believe, in a swirl of oceanic sargasso. Meanwhile, we learn of the author’s passion for nature and the gradual evolution of the relationship he has with his father, revealed through river silt as the two fish for eel.
If you’re a fan of the outdoors, angling, history, the study of animals, family, or you simply enjoy excellent writing, Patrik Svensson’s The Book of Eels has something wonderful to offer. A bit of mystery. A bit of murk. But through it all a clarity that only reveals itself by way of a lifelong journey pursued, and completed.
Patrik Svensson is an arts and culture journalist at Sydsvenskan newspaper. He lives with his family in Malmö, Sweden. The Gospel of Eels is his first book.
- Title: The Book of Eels
- Author: Patrik Svensson
- Publisher: Ecco and HarperCollins, 2021
- ISBN: 978-0-06-296882-1 (paperback)
- Pages: 241 pp
Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.