The first novel from author Erika Swyler, The Book of Speculation, will pull you in and keep you captivated to the very last page. Although it left me with some questions, Swyler’s creation of mystery and mysticism that ensnare and connect the characters throughout the novel is bewitching, and the plot, new and refreshing.
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The narrator of the novel, Simon Watson, lives a simple and mundane life. A librarian and lover of all things old, he is intrigued and slightly confused when a book collector from across the country sends him a very old and damaged circus ledger full of elaborate pictures, names, and dates of events. The Book Seller writes him and states that he connected Simon with a name of a woman listed in the book, Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother.
Curious, Simon begins to read the book to decipher why his grandmother’s name was in this increasingly mysterious book, which leads him to dig into the history of his family. To his horror, Simon soon discovers that all the women, starting with his great grandmother, all were traveling “Mermaids” or circus performers in Circus’, and all, despite their unnatural ability to hold their breaths, drowned on the same day of the same month.
When his sister shows up, taking a break from her life in the circus, Simon begins racing against the clock to find a way to end the curse on his family before it is too late.
One of my favorite attributes about this novel was the stories of the traveling circus in the 1800’s. The personalities of the characters, descriptions of their everyday lives and how the traveling circus operated, was fascinating and very well told. In those flashbacks, the reader slowly is able to put together Simon’s family and how the curse began. It was these characters and their stories that really made the book great for me and made me want to hear more about the strange characters and the magic that seems to cling to them.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I was left with some questions that I’m not sure the book can answer. For example, the “curse” over his family has always and only affected the females until the end of the novel but never explains why the change, which I feel is pretty essential to the plot and goes against the nature of the original curse. Also, the ending and Simon’s future is also unclear. The reader is told that after destroying the mysterious book in an attempt to destroy the curse and watching his family home falling into the sea, Simon is compelled to rewrite everything he remembers from the book. His house is gone, but why Simon, his sister, her boyfriend and his girlfriend all leave their hometown to travel across the country with him to write his story is not explained.
I would recommend The Book of Speculation to those who love a bit of mysticism, mystery, circus life and family drama. Overall, it’s a very entertaining and well-written novel, despite the questions I had about the plot and the ending.
Visit the official website of Erika Swyler.