My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was an advanced copy from Net Galley.
It is a certain kind of irony to enjoy books about books. The cover of The Book of Speculation promises a plot involving some form of antique book, or at least some form of book-based adoration. Based on the cover alone you might think this is a story about the love of books along the lines of A Shadow of the Wind.
Don’t judge this book by its cover: it is so much more.
The Book of Speculation opens with the arrival of a priceless antique book. Simon, a librarian whose house is at risk of crumbling into the sea, discovers the book was sent to him from one Mr. Churchwarry after buying it in an auction. It seems there is some link to Simon’s family in the archaic book and Simon, ever the librarian, begins to research it.
If this had been a tale of a family line told through this unusual book, that would have been interesting enough. But Erika Swyler delivers a gorgeous and melancholy story of travelling carnivals, mermaid women who hold their breath for minutes at a time, and mute Wild Boys. Simon dives into this world and discovers a troubling coincidence: a long line women in his family die on July 24th, and they all drown. So when his errant sister announces that she’s coming home for the first time in years at the beginning of the fateful month, Simon believes he must protect her from the same disturbing end.
The quietness of this novel is beautiful. It starts slowly without being dull and rises like a flash flood to a stunning conclusion. If I had the time I would have swallowed this book whole in one sitting, dragged forward by the magnetic cast of characters and the promise of intertwining lines across generations.
I’ll admit I’m biased; The Book of Speculation was written for me. Not literally, although when I realised it was the tale of coast-dwelling book lovers I did wonder. Though I live inland now I grew up metres from the edge of a cliff surrounded by a room full of books with sea spray hitting my bedroom window. I will hold a fascination with it for the rest of my life and that love and occasional horror distilled into a pure form in this book.
Giving a book a five star review often makes me uncomfortable but I have no doubt that The Book of Speculation deserves it. Not only are the characters real and vivid, the story twists and turns in a quiet and effortless way and the ending does not disappoint. It is all I can do not to start it again straight away. Give the book a try when it comes out on June 23rd; it is worth the time.