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The Book of Speculation (2015)

by Erika Swyler

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2,1181247,464 (3.63)74
"Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home--a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards, and seldom calls. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who lived and worked in a traveling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes; and his best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm. Why does his grandmother's name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family--and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her--and perhaps himself--Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past. The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic"--… (more)
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» See also 74 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
Goodreads defines three stars as "I liked it" and that's fair but I can't go higher than that for this book.

In the modern part of the story a librarian, his sister who reads the Tarot, a couple of neighbors and a carnival worker covered in octopus tentacle tattoos try to figure out how to put an end to a centuries long curse on a family of "mermaids". In the flashback part of the story we learn the origins of the curse back in the late 1700s. This is all very weird, of course, and I actually liked most of it but there were just too many things I wanted to know more about. We eventually learn the connections of the modern characters to the historical ones but only in a quick rushed sequence at the end and I wanted to understand much more about those relationships and how they got to where they were. I wanted to know more about the very beginning and who/what exactly was Evangeline's (the original mermaid) father. And why all the weirdness with the horseshoe crabs?

I think I just needed a few more chapters in the past and present to tie things into a neater bow for me.





( )
  hmonkeyreads | Jan 25, 2024 |
I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Actual rating: 3.5/5

I quite enjoyed this book, and it was easily one of the best debuts I've read so far this year. The story was captivating, and the writing flowed easily. The book is split between the present, where we follow Simon and his research into the family history, and the past, where we get to see the origin of the family itself. For most of the book, I actually enjoyed the parts set in the past more than the present. As much as I was interested in seeing Simon unravel the secrets of his family to understand the curse that threatens his sister's life, I have to admit that most of the time I was just bored as he did enormous amounts of research to discover stuff I had mostly figured out already. I found his story to really pick up and become interesting around the 80% mark, which was way too late for me. On the other hand, I was really invested in the "past sections" and I would actually have loved to have a deeper insight into the daily lives of the colourful cast of characters that formed the travelling show.

Speaking of characters, I was slightly disappointed by them. I felt that the whole cast just had so much potential, as each of them was carrying the weight of their past, and battling their own personal demons. There was such a wide range of characters and a variety of backgrounds, it being mostly set in a circus environment, that I felt it was really a shame that we didn't get to see more of them and to explore their personalities in more depth. This book was definitely plot driven, and it just felt to me as if a character was only recognised as far as he/she was instrumental to the plot. We only ever saw the parts of their personalities, their abilities or even the characters themselves when they were necessary to advance the plot, and practically never for the sake of getting to know the character personally. And that's perfectly fine, if you like books that focus more on the plot. If, however, like me you're obsessed with characters and getting to know as much as possible about them in the 300-or-so pages you've been gifted, you're likely to be left disappointed by this.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, if at times a little too slow, particularly in the middle section. The author put in place a compelling story, narrated with great ability. She also managed to weave in magical elements seamlessly, and actually for a moment had me believing in mermaids and curses as if they were as common as cats and pizza. I'll definitely be on the lookout for her future work! ( )
  bookforthought | Nov 7, 2023 |
I miss Simon, Enola, and Doyle. ( )
  Bebe_Ryalls | Oct 20, 2023 |
Extremely disappointed in this book but maybe that's because I had high expectations after reading The Light From Other Stars which I absolutely loved. This just seemed to move at a snail's pace and the main character just felt like a whiney doormat so I was put off by him. ( )
  awesomejen2 | Jun 21, 2022 |
Ich war mir eigentlich nicht sicher, was ich von diesem Buch erwartet habe - und bin mir auch nicht ganz sicher, was ich bekommen habe.
Offensichtlich liegt auf der Familie des Protagonisten ein Fluch - die Frauen der Familie können unter Wasser ungewöhnlich lange die Luft anhalten und sterben seit Generationen alle an einem bestimmten Datum durch Ertrinken. Dann erhält der Protagonist ein seltsames Buch, das zu einem fahrenden Zirkus gehört hat, der offensichtlich mit seiner Familiengeschichte verknüpft ist und von dem in Rückblenden erzählt wird. So weit, so spannend.
Aber leider bin ich mit den Charakteren nicht warm geworden - weder in der Gegenwart, noch in der Vergangenheit. Und auch bei der Auflösung des Geheimnisses bin ich ein wenig unzufrieden zurückgeblieben.
Aber für einen Debütroman fand ich das Buch kreativ und der Schreibstil hat mir gefallen - ich werde der Autorin definitiv eine zweite Chance geben. ( )
  Ellemir | May 25, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
****
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

That quote, a golden oldie by George Santayana, about the nature of history, just kept coming to me while I was reading The Book of Speculation, the smart and beguiling new novel by Erika Swyler. This book isn’t about history with a capital H, but it’s a story about a family whose future and past are linked, by tragedy and love, and maybe by magic.

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in his family’s house, which is slowly but surely threatening to crumble into the Long Island Sound. His parents are both dead. His mother, who worked in a circus as a mermaid, drowned in the waters his house overlooks. Simon lives a quiet life, trying to keep the house in one piece with the help of his family’s life long friend and neighbor, Frank. Meanwhile, he begins to drift into love with Frank’s daughter, Alice, who also works at the library. He worries all the while, about his younger sister, Enola, who ran off years ago, and now works for a carnival reading tarot cards, a talent that her mother Paulina also had.

Then Simon receives a book in the mail, sent by an antiquarian bookseller. Old, waterlogged, and damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a travelling carnival in the 1700’s, with many tales of strange and magical occurrences, including the death of a circus mermaid. Simon studies the book, and realizes that it may be about his family. During his research he discovers the fact that many generations of “mermaids” have died by drowning, on July the 24th, the day that his mother died. He also finds out that his sister, Enola, is coming home to visit him. When Enola arrives, followed by her boyfriend Doyle, another circus performer, events accelerate, and Simon, who has lost his job, delves deeper into the book to try and discover if his family is cursed, and if they are, can he find a way to save his sister Enola, and his own future.

There are a lot of things that I am skipping in this synopsis, to avoid spoilers, but I was very charmed by the way that Ms. Swyler mixed the the two stories together, often linking the threads with Tarot cards. The present narrative, told in the first person, and the past, told in the third, were both equally engaging. The ways that each narrative fed and supported the other showed that Ms. Swyler has a real feel for character and a flair for plot and technique. Near the end the present story, the struggles of Simon and Enola and Alice and Doyle, and their quest to end the cycle of tragedies that haunt them seemed to me more engaging than the stories from the past, but it was a quibbling matter. All of the characters in the present tale were so vivid, and their stories were so captivating to me that the tales from the past, became, well, the past. I don’t know if that was Ms. Swyler intent, but I found that it was entirely fitting, and an appropriate and satisfying end to a very good novel. For me, there is no speculation in that.

Review by: Mark Palm
Full Reviews Available at: http://www.thebookendfamily.weebly.co...
 
The history of The Book of Speculation also involves a book within a book.

To submit her book to publishers, Swyler wanted to mimic for them the feeling Simon gets when the old book arrives at his home. She learned how to tea-stain pages and hand-bind books, then turned her manuscripts into, as she says in the same publisher’s interview, “little replicas of the mysterious book that Simon receives,” as it was important for her “to convey both the magic and the tactile pleasure that is an old book.”

She also illustrated her manuscript with sketches that would have appeared in Peabody’s book. Some of these sketches are in the published novel, though that wasn’t Swyler’s original intention: “When St. Martin’s said they were interested in illustrations, I foolishly latched on to this idea that an illustrator would be brought in and we’d have fantastic meetings over coffee where we’d discuss tarot cards and circus wagons.

“When I realized that St. Martin’s wanted my illustrations, I had a small heart attack.”

She need not have. The illustrations add charm, and make Peabody’s book seem all that much more real. So when you return this book to its shelf, be prepared to leave a little piece of your heart in a couple places.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/entertai...
 
Narrator Simon and his younger sister, Enola, grew up in an 18th-century house on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound. Taking after her mother, a former circus performer who drowned herself when Simon was 7, Enola travels with a carnival as a tarot card reader. Simon is still living in their dangerously dilapidated family home when, out of the blue on one June day, he receives a book from an antiquarian bookseller, who had noticed Simon's grandmother's name inside. Soon Simon discovers a frightening pattern among his female ancestors, all unnaturally good swimmers, all drowning as young women on July 24.
added by smasler | editKirkus Reivews (Apr 1, 2015)
 

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For Mom, there are no words.
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June 20th - Perched on the Bluff's edge, the house is in danger.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home--a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards, and seldom calls. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who lived and worked in a traveling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes; and his best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm. Why does his grandmother's name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family--and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her--and perhaps himself--Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past. The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic"--

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