3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We know an awful lot about the planets in our solar system and the stars that surround us but if you were to look out to sea we have only explored around 5% of the oceans. There are things down there that we can barely imagine and creatures that we do know of we know so little about.

One of those creatures is the eel. It is one of the strangest creatures that has existed and even though they have been studied for hundreds of years, very little is known about it. The few things we do know about them are mere snapshots of their lives, even now it is thought that they spawn in the Sargasso Sea, it is not actually known that they actually do that. Attempting to get them to breed in captivity has met with abject failure every time.

Now their numbers are plummeting, there has been a 95% drop in the number of elvers in our streams and rivers and no one knows what to do about it or where to start looking for answers. Yet they have been a part of our culture since time immemorial. Thousands have been caught and cooked and eaten all over Europe in this time too.

One of those people who fished for this elusive creature is Patrick Svensson. It was kind of a hobby, but for his father, it was a borderline obsession. He would try the latest methods or new baits and traps in his drive to catch these creatures. But there was more to it than that, it was a welcome respite from his job as a road paver. He could come home from that hot smelly job have a short nap and then carry on for the rest of the day, but he always smelled of tar.

It began for his father in childhood, he always liked being down by the stream. It was a short distance from his home and was a slightly overgrown habitat that had its own magic. At the time it was the outer limit of his world and he fished and swam in it, skated over it in the winter, caught mice and listened to the soothing noise of flowing water when helping out on the farm. He was fond of the taste of eel too, loving the greasy gamey flavour, unlike his son. Fishing for eels became a thing that they did together and even though Svensson recalls it being the only thing that they talked of, but also remembers not talking that much at all when fishing.

Svensson is not the only one who has had a fascination with this enigmatic creature, it has been written about since Aristotle’s time and he explores what some of these people learnt and wrote about it.

It is a wide-ranging looking at some of the natural history, historical, culture and folklore behind eels but at its heart, this is a family memoir about the time Svensson spent fishing for eels with his father. He has a straightforward and matter of fact way of writing and I did like it, but the multi-faceted genres meant it lost a little bit of focus for me.

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