In a captivating blend of memoir and nature writing, Swedish journalist Svensson recalls fishing for eels with his late father, who introduced him to the ways and wiles (and taste!) of this most elusive of creatures. It sparks a journey to discover all he can about extraordinary lifecycle of the European eel-taking in science, literature, folklore and much more besides. A hot book of the 2019 London Book Fair and also Sweden's bestselling book of that year, rights in this enchanting work have been sold in over 30 languages.
There is a stillness to Svensson’s writing that perfectly suits the eel and his enigmatic father, a road paver. “I can’t remember us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to catch them,” the author admits at one point. This is a book about tenderness, slime and savagery. Svensson’s father secures a still-twitching eel to a board with a five-inch nail through its head and urges his son to “take off its pyjamas” – pulling off the skin in one fluid motion.
Svensson’s father was a road paver, a man who always smelt of tar. He fishes for eels alongside his son with undemonstrative obsessiveness. He dies of cancer — all that exposure to asphalt. “Every eel seeks its place in the world without a guide,” Svensson comments, “without inheritance or heritage and existentially alone.” The same, he implies, is true of a working-class boy who becomes a writer.
And such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent: a skinned eel is “blueish on the inside. Like a child’s pyjamas.” A stream “rushed in a startled fashion”. Grass is “quietly hissing”.
I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.