The books you'll want to read.
Simon Watson is a young librarian whose life is crumbling around him—literally. His house, perched on the edge of the ocean, is about to tumble into the water because of erosion. His job is in peril due to budget cutbacks, and he can’t seem to make quite the right move with the lovely Alice. When a very old book arrives on his doorstep, Simon is dumbfounded. It appears the only reason the antiquarian bookseller sent it to him is that it is badly water damaged, and his grandmother’s name appears in it. Simon does love a puzzle, and starts to read through the book, which appears to be an account log for an ancient travelling carnival. As Simon does more research, he comes to realize that generations of females in his family have all died on July 24th, at very young ages—and the deaths all look like suicides. His own mother drowned herself in the ocean on the 24th when Simon and his younger sister Enola were children—not an easy task since their mother was a carnival mermaid, able to hold her breath for up to nine minutes underwater. When Enola turns up suddenly, acting strangely and reading the tarot over and over to herself, Simon becomes concerned and starts to dig more urgently into their family’s past. With the 24th of July only days away, Simon must quickly learn his family’s secrets to stop history from repeating itself.
The storyline jumps back and forth between the current day with Simon and his mysterious book, and the late 1700’s where a young mute boy named Amos travels with a carnival, first as a ‘wild boy’ then as an apprentice to the card reader. It’s not expressly stated but it’s fairly obvious that the flashback carnival scenes will eventually reveal Simon’s ancestry—and possibly the origins of the family curse, as Amos falls in love with a mysterious young woman who becomes the show’s first mermaid.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION is a haunting and bittersweet story—full of sadness and various types of love that are difficult to survive. Yet it is still a compelling read. I didn’t find Simon’s sister Enola to be terribly sympathetic, but Simon certainly is and his love for his ornery sister carries the urgency of the story. And even though Enola isn’t very likable, she is very real—as is the up and down nature of their relationship as siblings. You hate them one moment and love them the next. For his part, Simon is bound to his crumbling home by his family and their past—the death of both of his parents (years apart) makes him overly responsible for both his sister and their home. If it weren’t for their untimely deaths, Simon would have a much easier time walking away from the money pit the house has become.
The language is lyrical and evocative—you can almost taste the salt on your lips and feel the sand in your hair. It made me start thinking about a trip to the ocean—although I would keep my feet firmly on the sand. Swyler’s ocean may be beautiful, but it is also merciless and wild.