Monday, 22 June 2015

Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Publication Date: June 23rd 2015
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Length: 352 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and St Martin’s Press for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother's name. What is the book's connection to his family?
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.
One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand. 
The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

This was an intriguing book, one that I have had my eye on for some time and was looking forward to exploring. It was a spellbinding read, one that sucked me under and kept me guessing and wondering, filled me with anger and hurt and desperation, and was suffused with a quiet magic. It’s a story told through two timelines, Simon, desperately trying to piece together his family history and protect his sister. And Amos, from the 1700s, deftly weaving the stories origin point so that as Simon uncovers more clues about this strange book he has been sent and his families tragic past, we see it unfold through Amos as well.

It had elements of both ‘The Snow Child’ and ‘The Night Circus’ – two books I loved. The same lilting magic and quiet depths. The story takes its time, ambling between the two storylines at a sometimes frustrating pace. But rather than wanting to skip one timeline to get to the other as so often happens with these split books, I found myself enjoying both tales equally. There were points where one took precedence to the detriment of the other, forcing the narrative stream down to a dribble, but on the whole it moved along at a solid pace to reach a quite tense and dramatic climax.

The writing is quiet, beautiful at times and filled with memorable passages. There are several quotes that I know I will take with me. Swyler most definitely has a way with words, of twisting language into this wondrous thing, even when her characters could not speak at all, the ways of communication were filled with surprising depths and double meanings.

“We would bury ourselves in books until flesh and paper became one and ink and blood at last ran together.”

The odd thing was that whilst the book was good, and I am glad I read it, I didn’t enjoy it exactly. It was too melancholy, and had too many threads of lies, sadness and betrayal for me to fully immerse myself in the story in an enjoyable fashion. It pulled me in, made me want to unravel the mystery and see it through to its breath-taking climax, but once I finished, I was glad to close the book. It is a fascinating story, one I wasn’t sure how it would end. It had so many tangled threads and possibilities that snarl together as Simon attempts to piece the history together, only to emerge as a solid braid in the last few pages. 

It’s beautiful and wretched and filled with sorrow, not necessarily a good summer book, but definitely one to pick up if you enjoyed ‘The Snow Child’ or ‘The Night Circus’.

“We carry our families like anchors, rooting us in storms, making sure we never drift from where and who we are. We carry our families within us the way we carry our breath underwater, keeping us afloat, keeping us alive. I’ve been lifting anchors since I was eighteen. I’ve been holding my breath since before I was born.”

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