15 October 2020, The Tablet

Mystery wrapped in enigma

Mystery wrapped in enigma

The elusive eel ...
Photo: PA/DPA, Patrick Pleul


The Gospel of the Eels: A Father, A Son and the World’s Most Enigmatic Fish
(PICADOR, 256 PP, £16.99)
Tablet bookshop price £15.29 • Tel 020 7799 4064

During my first term at the University of Lund in southern Sweden, I was invited to the traditional Eel Feast – held during the “Eel Darkness” period in autumn when these fish start heading back to the Sargasso Sea. In a packed room, with steamed-up windows obscuring the night outside, abandoned by the boy who had invited me and surrounded by a braying crowd of older students, I was told I had to go through the initiation rite of “catching the eel in the sack”. I was led to a large barrel. Somehow, leaning in deep, I managed to pull a struggling eel from the black water before quickly dropping it back in. As I stood there – my bare arm numb from the grip of the fish, my party dress splattered with water and eel-slime – I felt deep humiliation at this ritual exposure, of myself and the eel.

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