Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Book of Speculation

Title:  The Book of Speculation
Author:  Erika Swyler
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2015. 352 pages.
ISBN:  125005480X / 978-1250054807

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "Perched on the bluff's edge, the house is in danger."

Favorite Quote:  "We carry our families like anchors, rooting us in storms, making sure we never drift from where and who we are. We carry our families within us the way we carry our breath underwater, keeping us afloat, keeping us alive. "

Simon Watson lives alone in a house on a bluff in Long Island Sound. The house threatens to fall to the sea at any moment. Simon is alone. His sister Enola lives on the road as a traveling performer. His father is gone, and his mother drowned many years ago on July 24.

One day, a mysterious book arrives on Simon's doorstep - a book with words, names, sketches, and perhaps a key to the past. As Simon loses his job, the book and his family's history becomes his project. In his research, a startling pattern emerges. Generations of women in his family have drowned at a young age over the years; all have died on July 24. How considering that so many in the family can hold their breath under water for over ten minutes? Why? Is his sister next?

Simon's search leads to family history that goes back to the 1700s and to the world of Hermelius Peabody and his "troupe of traveling entertainers." Alternating chapters of the book travel between Simon's research and the mysterious, magical world of the past. The past is filled with color and intrigue - a traveling circus, a mute boy, a fortuneteller, and a killer. Comparatively, Simon's chapters seem prosaic - job, money, house, research. The past is the story; the present is trying to figure out the past to stop history from repeating itself. The past is magic and mermaids; the present is ordinary humans making do. The past is a drama; the present introduces too many connections and elements to that drama to remain true to any given one. A thread of continuity is needed between past and present; the book however connects every dot and ties in every character, making it unnecessarily jumbled.

Magic, mystery, and family history make up The Book of Speculation. Simon is a librarian, and the story centers on an antique book. It seems a recipe for a book I would love. However, something seems missing. It's not a bad book, but something keeps it from being the engrossing story the description suggests it could be.

I have seen this book compared to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which I loved. For me, this book does not have the same sense of enchantment. The two do have the traveling circus setting in common, but that is where the similarity ends.

The Book Speculation seems full of action, but it reads really slowly. Even in the middle of storms, arguments, and even killings, the pace of the book is really slow. The characters also seems not to develop or engage me emotionally, especially the main character Simon. The ending answers the questions of the book, but the story seems unresolved. The writing itself is dark and atmospheric as are the illustrations drawn by the author. At times, they almost capture me, but not quite. This book is odd. I feel like I should have loved it. I didn't, but find it difficult to explain why. Just the idea that something is missing and speculations of what that magical missing element of the story might be.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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