Speculating the Family Circus

Books, circuses, and swimmers. Each entity on its own is exciting in its own right but when combined through a family and a curse, these aspects take on a life of their own and consume those in its wake. Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation weaves the element of magic, spanning many years and numerous family members, in a story of familial discovery.

Simon Watson is a librarian by trade and a circus swimmer (a.k.a mermaid) by heritage who is sent a mysterious, old book from bookseller Martin Churchwarry because Simon’s grandmother’s name is in it. Through some research, Simon pieces together the mystery of his family lineage through the circus log but there are things that don’t quite make sense, particularly the startling discovery of the generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family drowning on July 24th. With that date coming up quickly, Simon wants to act to save his younger sister Enola, who has thus far followed in her mother’s footsteps, except for performing as a mermaid in her traveling show. It’s said that we’re blind when it comes to family, so can Simon find a way to break the cycle and save what’s left of his family?

The writing and the story captivated me, easily playing off of my love for books and aquatics. The two story lines presented build a momentum of pending action to be taken by Simon as he attempts to figure out the reason for his maternal family’s premature, perplexing, watery demise. I enjoyed the various perspectives presented, but there were times when the narrative seemed to shift within a chapter from first person to third person, which was established for the different time periods, Simon in current day and the traveling carnival in the 1800s respectively. The shift in narrative perspectives was a little jarring at first, but easy to become accustomed to. I thought that it was a good idea to make the book feel more like the log that Simon received, but the “handwritten” portions of text were in a script font that was rather difficult to read.

The ARC of the book that I had received bore the first iteration of the cover, with the second appearing on the back cover. The last iteration of the cover has been cropping up across emails I’ve been getting from Publisher’s Weekly, noting the popularity and newsworthiness of the book. With cover art across the spectrum of the production stages that is both apt to the story and beautiful to behold, there’s really no wrong answer–but my two cents is that I prefer either the first or the second cover for their simplicity rather than the last cover that has a commercial appeal through a stereotypical image of female hands holding something, which has been so horribly pervasive of late.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.


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