The Book of Speculation: A Novel by Erika SwylerThe Book of Speculation: A Novel by Erika Swyler

The Book of Speculation: A Novel

byErika Swyler

Hardcover | September 30, 2017

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One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015

"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading."-Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned--always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation--with two-color illustrations by the author--is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

ERIKA SWYLER is a graduate of New York University. Her short fiction has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro,, and elsewhere. Her writing is featured in the anthology Colonial Comics, and her work as a playwright has received note from the Jane Chambers Award. Born and raised on Long Island's North Shore, Erika l...
Title:The Book of Speculation: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 9.47 × 6.39 × 1.28 inPublished:September 30, 2017Publisher:St. Martin's PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:125005480X

ISBN - 13:9781250054807

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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I expected this to be so interesting based on the summary, but it was such a boring read that I had to force myself through it.
Date published: 2018-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful book about a book I keep hearing people to compare this to The Night Circus and I have no idea why. If anything I would think Mr Penumbra's comes closer, but still not the same. Some of the characters in this book are "unlikeable" - but in fiction as in life, not everyone is someone you will like. Quite frankly I hate a book filled with only likeable characters; you could hardly get further from human nature than that! I found the exploration of the idea of whether something is destiny, or do you make it happen by thinking it will be so, an interesting one. And I do love a good book about a book!
Date published: 2016-11-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from What a shame... I was so, so looking forward to this book because I thought it may be as lovely and mysterious as the Night Circus, etc., but good heavens did it fall flat. The book weaves back and forth through time, with Simon and his sister Enola (amongst others) who are our present day curse-bearers, or at least that's what Simon thinks when a peculiar book is sent to him from an antique book dealer. It has his grandmother's name in it and is from a traveling 'side show' from the 1700s. Then he learns that all of his female relatives for hundreds of years have all died from drowning on the same day, including his mother. The modern section is not great. The characters are all one-dimensional and quite frankly unlikeable, with the exception of Enola's boyfriend, Doyle. In fact, I had trouble trying to picture Simon, our protagonist the entire time as he's poorly described and didn't know until about 130 pages in that he was only 29 years old. The older section, where the curse supposedly begins, is much better and in fact if the book had revolved around that whole story (which is could have) I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Amos is a mute (ironically the best written character) and Evangeline, the strange and seductive water-woman who brings nothing but death and sorrow to those around her. The story of the carnival side is good, again, but not great--nothing like the Night Circus or its complexity. The 'twists and turns' of this are so foreseeable I actually laughed when one character was written to gasp at finally getting something almost at the very end. I had to roll my eyes--they really didn't see it coming? (I won't ruin anything in case you do like to solve the mystery at the same time.) I also felt like a lot of the dialogue and events were arbitrary in the modern section, like it was too forced or trying to add layers of intrigue that were obvious and banal. There was too much imagery that did nothing to enhance the overall mystery and to be honest, I was glad to finish it off. One good thing about this is it's a quick read. First novel by the author--I have a feeling a sophomore attempt may be better.
Date published: 2016-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A spectacular debut! The Book of Speculation captured me from the very first sentence with beautiful language and a uniquely crafted family tale. I wanted to stay in both Simon and Amos’ worlds a bit longer, if only to experience Swyler’s uncanny ability to enchant me with her words, much like Evangeline enchanted those with her presence. Everything had a touch of whimsy and danger with each turning page, and after page 60 or so, I finished this book in one sitting. The building upon the family mystery was done so masterfully that I spent my entire Sunday afternoon gripped to the book until I knew Simon and his family’s fate. At times, I found the flashbacks to Amos to be more gripping, just because of the beautiful and terrifying backdrop of the carnival. Though, as I reached the end when Simon discovered at an alarming rate that his sister might be the next to share the same fate as his ancestors, I enjoyed looking through his eyes again. As a big fan of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, I found the comparison natural. I would encourage those who have not read The Book of Speculation to greet it with an open mind and heart, and let the story of carnival mermaids and family secrets whisk you away for a calm Sunday afternoon. “Once you’ve held a book and really loved it, you forever remember the feel of it.”
Date published: 2015-07-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I was underwhelmed by this book! The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is an interesting book. Simon Watson is a librarian in Napawset. He receives a book in the mail from Martin Churchwarry of Churchwarry and Sons. The book is very old and, unfortunately, suffers from water damage. Simon starts reading the book because his grandmother’s name is written in it. The book was started by Hermelius Peabody who ran a type of traveling carnival called Peabody’s Portable Magic and Miracles. There was the wild boy, the fortune teller, the mermaid, and etc. The book turns out to be an owner’s log. It is supposed to always stay with the show. The book has ideas for acts, the names of the performers, accounting information, items obtained, and so on. The book makes Simon research his family history. Simon discovers that there is a trend. Simon lost his mother when he was a little boy. His sister, Enola, was only two at the time. While their mother was an expert swimmer and could hold her breath for close to ten minutes under water, she drowned. Then Simon finds out that his grandmother drowned. The same month as his mother. They both died in July and before they were thirty years old. Upon more research he finds out that the women in his family have all drowned before they were thirty in the month of July. Simon is worried about his sister, Enola. She has come home for a visit and is acting strangely. Simon believes the book was sent to him for a reason. The book alternates between modern time with Simon and the past when Hermelius Peabody meet the Wild Boy (they named him Amos). Amos was the product of a farmer’s wife and a traveling salesman. The wife’s husband left him in the wood when he was old enough to feed himself and walk. Amos came upon Peabody and traveling acts. Amos was a mute. The story tells of Amos’ time with Peabody, how he learned to read tarot cards, and fell in love with a “mermaid”. It all connects together. Can Simon figure out why the women in his family are cursed in time to save Enola? I give The Book of Speculation 3 out of 5 stars. It is an interesting story, great idea, but the book is a slow read. It just seems to go on forever. There is a copious amount of foul language in this book (and completely unnecessary), mild violence (people hitting each other), and a moderate amount of sex. This book had great potential, but instead it is a mediocre (I found it dissatisfying). I received a complimentary copy of The Book of Speculation in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.
Date published: 2015-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! This book gets a LOT of comparisons to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. However, it's so much more complex and better written than The Night Circus. In fact, the writing is gorgeous; beautifully descriptive and full of clever turns of phrases. It's actually the story, plot and characters that make this book so rich. The tale of Simon Watson, his family, friends and the unraveling of his ancestors' history, make an absolutely compulsive read. I found myself taking this book with me everywhere so I may snatch a few minutes of reading. Simon, his sister and his maternal family line, all seem to have a pull on people, drawing them in. This book does the same. Author Sara Gruen is quoted on the (ARC) cover "I was immediately swept up in this quirky, raucous, and bewitching family saga." The draw of this book couldn't be better described.
Date published: 2015-06-22

Editorial Reviews

"While a book whose narrative hinges on drowning might not seem like a great beach read, Swyler's debut effort, redolent of salty ocean air, is just that...Its clever plot--fueled by a musty book and a powerful set of tarot cards--and Swyler's wonderful descriptions keep the pages swimming along." -Entertainment Weekly"A good book is magical. A piece of our heart stays tucked inside its lines when we return the book to its place on our shelf. Good novels about good books can be even more special, doubling the fun with two tomes to love. And when the book within the book is actually magical, as it is - or may be - in Erika Swyler's The Book of Speculation, well, let the wild read start." -Star-Telegram"Mermaids, tarot card readers, a wild man and other carnival characters work their literary magic in this debut novel...packed with fresh, unexpected marvels.""A wonderful novel, full of mystery through the centuries [with] great details about carnival life, similar to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern." -The Daily American"In this dazzling novel, the immensely talented Erika Swyler sweeps seamlessly through generations and centuries, moving deftly back and forth and weaving the strands into an exquisite tapestry. I was immediately swept up in this quirky, raucous, and bewitching family saga. Swyler's prose is so polished and elegant it reads effortlessly, even as her distinct voice shines through--her rendering of the sea and its savage appetite rivals that of Annie Proulx's in THE SHIPPING NEWS. I absolutely loved this book, and consumed it whole. My only complaint is that I am already on the edge of my seat waiting for her next." -Sara Gruen, author of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and AT THE WATER'S EDGE"THE BOOK OF SPECULATION is a luscious experience--dark, sweet, and wild." -Katherine Dunn, author of GEEK LOVE"Debut author Swyler creates a melancholy world with hints of magic at the edges. . . Fans of. . . Erin Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS, Katherine Dunn's GEEK LOVE, or Katherine Howe's THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE, won't want to leave this festival." -Library Journal"Illustrations by the author add even more atmosphere to her prose." -Booklist