Title: The Book of Speculation
In The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler we follow Simon Watson who was orphaned along with his sister as a teenager. Now an adult and a librarian, he stumbles upon a mysterious family secret that has plagued the women on his mother’s side of the family for generations. His mother, a former circus mermaid, made a living by showing off her unusual ability of holding her breath for prolonged periods of time – which made her death by drowning all the more suspicious.
When an old book arrives at Simon’s doorstep he’s intrigued but assumes it was meant to be sent to the library. Upon further inspection he realizes that the book holds more of a personal connection than he had at first presumed – and it may in fact contain the answer to his mothers death and the strange curse that appears to have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
This book was not for me, which was surprising because it seemed from the description and hype like the kind of book I would love. Historical Fiction? Check. Magical Realism? Check. Circuses? Check. But the story ultimately fell flat.
This book was split between two storylines, one from the past and one from the present (told from Simon’s perspective). Swyler did a good job with the historical fiction component of this book – the characters from the past (Simon’s ancestors) were well developed and interesting and the descriptions of the traveling circus were vivid and compelling. This book would have been a lot better if the story had been kept in the past (sorry, Simon and his sister). When Swyler transitioned from past to present her characters became one-dimensional and a little annoying. The dialogue was not well-crafted and seemed unnaturally forced in many instances. Additionally, the mysterious curse turned out to be a lot less exciting than I expected (spoiler: there are no actual mermaids).
Full disclosure, I listened to most of this book as an audiobook, so it’s highly likely that my dislike of the characters stems at least in part from the narrator’s decision to alter his voice to fit the gender and personality of each character. This seems to be a common thing with audiobooks and I wish it wasn’t. Maybe it helps some listeners differentiate between characters during scenes with heavy dialogue but it makes the characters sound fake.
Ultimately, I would not recommend this book to my friends as a must read; however, it might be a good suggestion for readers who enjoy historical fiction, magical realism, circus themes, selkie folklore, or mermaids.
Have you read this book? Leave your comments down below!