The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; 1St Edition (June 23, 2015)
Reading Sara Review: I liked this book, not a lot, but I did like it. The Book of Speculation follows Simon Watson, a librarian who lives in a house in Long Island that is beginning to crumble over the cliff into the sea. His life begins to change in multiple ways at once – the younger sister that he raised on his own is coming for a visit after years of being away (traveling with a circus as a tarot card reader), his library is going through budget cuts which will likely impact his job, and a book arrives at his doorstep. The book is what ties it all together, a puzzle that he wishes to solve and connects him deeply with his sister, the ocean, a man across the country who sent the book to him, and his neighbors – who have always been a part of his life, but he had no idea how connected they really are.
The story goes back and forth between two different time periods, and as you read, some of the mystery begins to unravel. This book is full of intrigue, magic (the Tarot and curses kind), and family trust and loyalty. As usual with these types of books, every time the chapter switches I am a little disappointed because I have become invested in the story, which in general is a good sign.
Simon comes from a family of mermaids (sort of, they can breathe underwater for amazingly long time periods), but the book begins to unravel the mystery of what happens to these mermaids – a mysterious drowning, all on the same date through multiple generations.
What I loved about this book was the underlining theme of the true power of books. A book changed the course of Simon’s life and those around him in powerful ways. At the beginning of the story, Simon is lost, living in a house that literally represents his life (unchanged, surrounded by memories of his parents, and his waiting for something – his sister, love, his job – to happen). In the end, it is a book that brings him to this moment of change.
The Book of Speculation had many side characters that I was interested in learning more about and often wished to get a story from their point of view. However, the novel did a great job staying the course of this story and being true to who the primary characters were, which I appreciated as well.
I had a few concerns with the book. First, I did not understand Simon and his sister Enola’s relationship. Why did they insist on keeping so much from each other? He raised her; did she really feel zero loyalty to him? Why didn’t she tell him sooner to get out of that house? Secondly, Simon and Alice (his neighbor’s daughter)’s love felt a little forced. Are we really to believe that prior to this story there were no feelings between the two of them? That they had grown up together and all of a sudden fell for each other one random day when they had a difficult day at work? I found this all very confusing, especially because I saw no reason why her father would be against the match. More things relating to their family being connected (no, not actually related) come out later – but still, I would think that Simon was the son that Frank always wanted. Lastly, I was underwhelmed by the ending, truth be told. I am curious what other people thought – did it wrap up the mystery?
If you were a fan of The Night Circus or Water for Elephants, this has some of the same themes – not just the circus feeling – but the darker side of that and the mysteriousness that surround the people and certainly the magic. The characters are interesting, the story is unique – not a favorite of mine, but a good, creative story.