Name: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Number of Pages: 352 (Paperback)
Published: 7th July 2016 by Corvus
Genre: Magical Realism, Historical, Mystery
For fans of The Night Circus, comes a sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who discovers that his family labours under a terrible curse. Simon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book connected to his family. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers, two hundred years ago. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could his beloved sister risk the same terrible fate? As 24th July draws ever closer, Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before it’s too late. – from GoodReads
The Book of Speculation is a story of books, family history, old curses, dark secrets and carnival life. The narrative switches between the modern day and the past as Simon Watson receives a fantastically old and unique book containing details of a travelling troupe who may have a connection to his own family.
Simon comes to believe his sister may be next to fall victim to the family curse which sees women known on the carnival scene as mermaids for their ability to hold their breath for long periods of time, drown. Drowning mermaids? Alarmed at the prospect of losing his sister Enola in the same manner that their mother died, Simon digs deeper into the family history. What a story Simon begins to uncover in his quest for knowledge, including some unexpected revelations from more recent generations which throws a new light onto the past.
The tale is wonderfully involving and mysterious, switching between the modern day, and the days gone by of the travelling troupe, the carnival of seers, strongmen, acrobats and mermaids.
I loved becoming engrossed in the latest chapter only to switch to the other time period; it left me wanting more as new layers of the story were gradually revealed.
There are some marvellous locations, bought to life so well on the page. Simon’s old, crumbling house on Long Island Sound, perched precariously on the cliff edge and one storm away from crashing into the ocean once and for all is a great setting.
I also loved that Simon worked in the library, so there’s the whole atmosphere of the library with it’s well of books and information.
Simon’s sister Enola follows in her mother’s footsteps and works at the carnival, so we’re treated so glimpses of that life as well, which is mystical and exciting.
In the troupe’s narrative we see life on the road as they travel from one location to the next with their show.
All manner of colourful characters fill these pages including Enola’s boyfriend Doyle, aka The Electric Boy, who is tattooed all over with tentacles.
There’s the presence of Paulina, Simon and Enola’s mother. She died years ago, but seems to fill the narrative through her children. Her absence is strongly felt down the years, and the ever-present question remains – how could someone who could hold their breath for upwards of 10 minutes drown?
In the 1700s section there’s Amos, the mute boy who begins his carnival career as the Wild Boy before graduating to Apprentice Seer, and Madame Ryzhkova, the Seer who takes Amos under her wing.
Evangeline performs the mermaid act, although her ‘talent’ is viewed with suspicion and fear by other performers, who call it unnatural for a woman to keep drowning herself in that way, and there’s a darkness from her past that trails her through life.
I enjoyed both narratives of the tale, and the way they both drew towards their conclusions. Moving from one time period to the next kept me turning pages long after I should have put the book down for the night.