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?
Having started American Horror Story: Freak Show at the weekend, I was reminded that I needed to write a review for this book. One which takes me back to a sunny day on Salem Common where I first delved into it, nothing beats reading in a place with a bit of atmosphere.
Browsing the shelves in Barnes and Noble earlier that week, my eye was caught by the cover featuring a lady handling books, which is the high mark of sexiness in my opinion. Having browsed the blurb and noted the key features, family curse, carnival and old book, I thought I would speculatively pick it up for review, it was only after leaving the shop that I realised it was coincidentally called The Book of Speculation.
Whilst being a familiar theme, the time-worn, ornate book with obscure secrets to decipher never gets any less enticing or mysterious. Having an old tome as the centre piece is always going to keep book lovers reading and I enjoyed this one, it built slowly and kept my attention with its fantastical and melancholy elements swirling agreeably into one another.
The book is structured with a dual timeline running in alternate chapters as we are first introduced to Simon, a librarian who’s soon becomes caught up in the history of a carnival, his researches into this travelling oddity unfold alongside his own personal life and the ultimate link between them, his sister.
We would bury ourselves in books until flesh and paper become one and blood and ink at last ran together.
Both stories had their moments but I find myself leaning towards the old-time aspect of the book, with all its associated settings and underpinning of the fantastical, as well as characters that were fully believable in their setting. The chronicling of the rotting of the family home with all its memories in the modern-day is also worth noting; the theme of water is very affecting physical motif and works well throughout.
This sense of decay is repeated throughout the book and is mirrored in the alternating chapter by the changing of physical place and the coming of an era without travelling shows. The idea of loss, of the elements taking away what is ours is a strong motif that will no doubt resonate with all of us in one form or another.
It may have been the Buzzfeed book of the year for 2015 but don’t that put you off, although my attention had waned a little by the end of the book it was an enjoyable read, nothing particularly complex about the storyline, just a good popular fiction read, with a healthy dollop of family drama to add to the main plot. As far as bestsellers go, this one is worth a read, the characters are well-rounded enough to convince and it features books and in this case that is more than enough.