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.
Every reader has a stack or list of books titled “The Ones I Wanted to Love but Didn’t” and Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation now finds itself on my list.
What I Liked:
The concept of this book is pretty sweet: a mysterious book with little to no identifying information makes its way into the hands of librarian, Simon Watson. Simon is drawn to the book and once he begins to research it, he discovers his family is intimately tied to the book and its history. Simon’s family has a long and tragic history he is desperate to not only understand but overcome. If Simon can pull all of the puzzle pieces together, he just might be able to save himself and his sister from a tragic fate that has befallen so many before them.
The alternating time periods/chapters is a favored writing device for me. The Book of Speculation moves back and forth between the present and the past as described in the book Simon has been given. The alternating time periods allows the author to weave the past and the present together into one cohesive story and I generally find this a most entertaining form of storytelling.
What I Didn’t Like:
I really struggled with the pacing of this book and it took me a lot longer than necessary to get through this read. The pacing is very slow and even in moments when there is considerable action, the pace barely picks up. I found myself only able to read 2-4 chapters at a time because of this.
In most books I like the majority of the characters (and dislike those the author wants me too) but I found it very difficult to like any of the characters in this read. Every character in this read is seriously depressed (or angry) over one issue or another and as the plot unfolds and the past and the present begin to merge, the sadness (and anger) becomes overwhelming. Yes, I totally appreciate these characters are dealing with a tragic past and current set of circumstances but even in the darkest of times, something good happens once in a while. This is not the case with this read.
Repetition makes me crazy and The Book of Speculation is riddled with repetition. In nearly every chapter at least a portion of the information is repeated and while that is sometime necessary (in a very complicated plot, for example), it certainly isn’t necessary in every chapter nor is it necessary for this read. At some point I realized I could skip over parts of the chapter because I already knew what was coming. Did this in any way cause me to miss a part of the read or not understand some aspect of the story down the road? No.
Finally, though there is no cliffhanger to this read I still found the ending to be thoroughly unsatisfying. Yes, all of the major questions are answered and the mystery is solved but the fate of the characters doesn’t feel at all settled, as if there is something more that needs to be explained about their circumstances.
The Bottom Line: The synopsis for this book drew me in instantly but I found it very difficult to stay with this read. To be clear, I finished this book but I found it hard to want to read and that is generally a very good indicator regarding how much or how little I like a book. Based on the book’s concept, The Book of Speculation should have been a book I was sucked into and only spit back out of after a single marathon read. Unfortunately, too many issues kept this book from being something I enjoyed and will keep it from being a read I would recommend to others.