Rating: 4 stars
A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother’s name. What is the book’s connection to his family?
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.
One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history before fate deals its next deadly hand.
The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
This book was quite a fantastical tale. It was exactly what I needed whenever I was reading it because it reminded me why I love reading so much. I particularly enjoyed reading about Simon and his family, their connection to the circus that’s also discussed in chapters throughout this book. I found it particularly interesting that he and his sister Enola both have the tenacity to hold their breath underwater for a long period of time and learning about their family history with that.
What I especially enjoyed with reading The Book of Speculation is the whole mystery surrounding Simon’s family. When he receives this book from Churchwarry, you as the reader watch as he puzzles over why Churchwarry sent this book to him, to begin with. As the story continues, however, and Simon begins to learn more about his family, he starts to understand what’s truly going on and what he needs to do to break the curse that seems to surround the women in his family he cares about. There’s just something about this aspect in the story that really intrigued me enough to continue reading. It was like I wanted to be involved in figuring out the mystery and what could be done to break the curse and I loved it.
I also loved reading about these characters too, especially Simon and his sister Enola. Like other characters in the book said, there’s something about their family that draws you to them and I found myself feeling that just from reading about them. I think part of the appeal was just feeling sympathetic to Simon and what he’s had to go through at this point in his life that I was rooting him on because I wanted things to get better for their family. I also found Doyle’s character interesting because he wasn’t someone I expected in the story and I wish we’d learned a little more about him while the story went on.
What made this book a fantastical read for me was the circus as a collective whole. I found learning about this circus and all the different people in it interesting and wanted to learn more about them. I especially loved learning about mermaids, the curse and tarot reading because all these aspects in the story played a crucial role in finding out how to break the curse. I also found it added an extra layer of magic to the story and I enjoyed every minute I spent learning about this world.
My biggest criticism for The Book of Speculation was not getting to read from the circus’s perspective about the tragedy that befell them and that caused the curse Simon had to break. I also wish that certain truths weren’t a part of the story because it took a little bit away from the main storyline. I don’t want to reveal too much because I don’t want to spoil this book, but reading that certain relationships happened when Simon and Enola were younger really made me dislike a character I was originally fond of, though it made me understand why he was so eager for Simon to not give up on the house. While this aspect of the story added an additional layer to everything else going on, I also felt like it wasn’t needed and would’ve preferred it being left out.
But overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It reminded me why I love the power of the written word so much and it was a delightful surprise I wasn’t expecting.