Sunday, January 27, 2008

The patron saint of eels

Regular readers of this blog may remember a book recommendation from Jacqui late last year - The patron saint of eels by Gregory Day.

It was one of the books I took away on a recent trip, and most definitely added to my holiday experience. Jacqui, you were right - what an incredibly unique and beautiful book. I absolutely loved it.

The patron saint of eels is gentle, evocative and deeply Australian. Set in a coastal Victorian town, it's the story of Noel and Nanette, two life-long friends saddened by the changes occurring in their town, and the loss of their community's connection to the landscape around it. They long for a time when life was less complex, when the miraculous was commonplace.

When spring rains flood a nearby swamp, hundreds of eels are washed downstream and become trapped in a ditch near Noel's home. Coming to their rescue is Fra Ionio, a Franciscan monk who has travelled a long way to save the eels - and remind Noel and Nanette about the important things in their lives.

I love the concepts in this book (in no particular order):
- the knowledge of our finite existence creates the intensity of our senses, driving desire, taste, lust etc;
- life is full of "gaps", between those experiencing great joy and great suffering (who are often oblivious each can be of each other, even when the physical distances between them are not great);
- that we have a connection to nature, and any truly theistic view of the world understands that God exists in all things;
- that there are miracles in nature everyday, we just don't stand still long enough to see them; and
- a truly religious journey means being real in the midst of life, not hiding away.

The novel offers a profoundly contemplative look at life and spirituality. Interestingly, although the concepts may at first seem very eastern, they reflect an important (and so far relatively isolated) shift in Judeo-Christian theology: that life and death, joy and grief, success and failure all have equal value in a life of meaning.

Reading The patron saint of eels, I was reminded, time and again, of the writings of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest in the US who writes about contemplative prayer, the power of simply "being" rather than "doing", and the equal validity of pain and suffering in the spiritual journey.

His book Everything Belongs (non-fiction) is one of the most profound pieces of writing I've ever read. I've re-read it many times over the years (and still struggled to hang on to its lessons for more than a few days at a time). I'm now reading another of his books, Simplicity: The freedom of letting go, which continues the contemplative theme.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on books that have changed the way they look at the world (fiction or non-fiction), or if anyone else has read The patron saint of eels ... or anything else you might like to talk about as it relates to great stories.

1 comment:

Bec said...

I'm actually getting this book from the library today (need to have read it for book club by this Monday - nothing like leaving things to the last minute). I'll let you know how I for books that made me change the way I view the world....definitely gotta go away and think about that one...