Book review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

24 Jul

SwylerE-BookOfSpeculationUKSimon Watson 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. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls.

On a day in late June, 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. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. 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 Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, 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.

I love it when a publisher contacts me about a book that piques my interest and I love it even more when that book turns out to be just as good as I’d hoped! The Book of Speculation is one of my surprise favourites of the year so far and has jumped straight into my ‘top books of the year’ list. Erika Swyler’s debut is a wonderful combination of magical realism, mystery, myth and the power of words and books.

Simon is sent an old and rare handwritten and illustrated manuscript by an antiquarian bookseller because it features the name of his maternal grandmother at the back and so begins an intriguing mystery that threads through generations of showmen and women and links to Simon and his sister in the present day.

Moving back and forth between past and present, The Book of Speculation charts the history of a travelling show in the 1800’s and it’s key characters in the past. With characters such as The Wild Boy, The Fortune Teller and The Mermaid, The Book of Speculation is filled with vividly descriptive language and I found the imagery used mesmerising – particularly the detailed descriptions of tarot cards and their meanings.  This novel is only available as an ebook in the UK at present but I can’t wait to get my hands on a paper copy!

In the past, the characters are a wonderful mix of practical and otherworldly fighting for survival whilst weaving an almost fairytale like existance. In the present the story focuses on Simon, his attachment to the book and his desire to uncover the mysteries held in it making it a family saga with a difference.  Simon is a librarian working with a local library and worrying about his wayward sister, the tumbledown house he has inherited and living in the shadow of his parents’ deaths. The mysterious book gives Simon something to fix onto amidst the tumult but there’s also a hint of romance in the story and I found events in the present almost as interesting as those recounted in the past.

As Simon begins to research more into the names in the book, and the past narrative moves forward to meet the present there were numerous twists and turns to the story to keep me guessing and speeding through the pages. That the twists came in both the past and present gave the book great pace and as the pieces of the mystery began to slot together the plot builds to a fantastic and dramatic finale.

As with many of the novels I read, I was drawn to the theme of the sea and water in this book. Simon lives in a house teetering on a cliff. The house isn’t the only thing teetering on the edge throughout the story and I thought the theme of impending danger or disaster throughout added a real edge to the narrative!

5/5

The Book of Speculation is out now in ebook formats from Corvus.

I’d like to thank the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book.

Find out more about Erika and her writing at: http://erikaswyler.tumblr.com/

 

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