(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Simon Watson spends his days trying to keep his job as a librarian while his family home slowly crumbles into the Long Island Sound. Built in the 1700s, the house has been witness to plenty of history, including the drowning of Simon's mother and the subsequent grief that tormented his father until he, too, passed away. All 29-year-old Simon has left is his younger sister, Enola. Following in the footsteps of their mother, who once earned her living as a circus mermaid, Enola works as a fortune teller for a traveling carnival. She hasn't been home in six years. Until a series of disturbing tarot card readings send her back in a panic.
The librarian is already unnerved by the surprise arrival of an old book on his doorstep. Sent by a stranger who bought it on speculation, the tome is a log kept by Hermelius Peabody, troupe master of the once great Peabody's Portable Magic and Miracles Show. Peabody's mention of a mysterious mermaid, who drowned on July 24 just like Simon's mother, convinces Simon that his family history is somehow tangled up in that of Peabody's strange circus. Worried about the disturbing pattern of women in his family dying by intentional drowning, Simon can't help but fret for his unstable sister. Has Enola come home only to throw herself in the sea? Can Simon stop her before she does something terrible? With his job gone, his house falling into the Sound, and his sister unraveling before his eyes, Simon becomes obsessed with the circus log. Can he pull himself out of his own manic study long enough to save Enola? Himself? Or will the ruined house watch more Watsons die in the churning sea below?
The Book of Speculation, a broody, atmospheric debut by Erika Swyler, tells an intricately woven story about the dark history of Simon's family. Moving between the present and the past, it offers a compelling then and now tale that gets increasingly tense as July 24th approaches for Simon and Enola. With vivid portrayals of circus life, the novel exudes a strange, potent magic. The author's evocative illustrations only make it more intriguing. While The Book of Speculation isn't exactly a page turner, it is utterly absorbing. And memorable. Overall, I found myself quite mesmerized by it. If you enjoyed The Night Circus (which I did) or Water for Elephants (which I actually didn't care for that much), give this one a shot. Chances are, it will bespell you just as thoroughly as it did me.
(Readalikes: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language, violence, and sexual content
To the FTC, with love: Another library