5 reviews

The Book of Speculation: A Novel
by Erika Swyler

Published: 2015-06-23
Hardcover : 352 pages
26 members reading this now
7 clubs reading this now
8 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 5 members

One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015

"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book ...

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One of BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015

"As Simon, a lonely research librarian, searches frantically for the key to a curse that might be killing the women in his family, he learns strange and fascinating secrets about their past. A tale full of magic and family mystery, The Book of Speculation will keep you up all night reading."?Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

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?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation--with two-color illustrations by the author--is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Water shrouds the fascinating, often doomed characters of The Book of Speculation. Featuring mermaids, swarms of horseshoe crabs, deadly floods, and the silent secrets of an ancient tarot deck, The Book of Speculation is split like a savory peach between the odd ventures of a traveling carnival in the late 1700s and the modern-day discovery by librarian Simon Watson of an old, handwritten volume containing his grandmother’s name. The water-damaged book may reveal the root of certain mysteries in his family, such as why the women can hold their breath far, far longer than normal, and the inexplicable reason they have all drowned while young women on the exact same date—a date that is only a few days away as the book begins. When Simon’s sister, Enola, unexpectedly returns home, vibrating with an angry sadness Simon has never seen before, Simon dives deeper into the book and the dark waters of their family history, hoping to change what he fears is her destiny. Erika Swyler has written an engrossing literary tale-spinner with an assurance rarely mastered in debut novels, allowing a well-placed detail or a lyrical phrase to paint a character or sketch even as she builds tension like a pro. As Simon grows obsessed with unraveling the secrets in his book, so will you become bewitched by The Book of Speculation.--Adrian Liang




Perched on the bluff’s edge, the house is in danger. Last night’s storm tore land and churned water, littering the beach with bottles, seaweed, and horseshoe crab carapaces. The place where I’ve spent my entire life is unlikely to survive the fall storm season. The Long Island Sound is peppered with the remains of homes and lifetimes, all ground to sand in its greedy maw. It is a hunger. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

Much of Simon’s life is defined by his beliefs about family and morality within a family unit. How does his definition of family compare with the other families in the book? How do his beliefs compare with your own?

Enola and Simon have dramatically different reactions to their shared childhood. Enola flees, and Simon stays. How does their sibling relationship play into their choices?

Different types of magic are woven throughout the story and the characters are each drawn to a specific kind—water magic, tarot cards, book magic, etc. Which characters resonate with what kind of magic? Are you drawn to a particular type of magic?

Books hold a place of reverence for Simon and Churchwarry. How do their views on the importance of books differ? Both believe that every person has a book that’s theirs, special to that person in an almost indefinable way. Do you have a book like that?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“In this dazzling novel, the immensely talented Erika Swyler sweeps seamlessly through generations and centuries, moving deftly back and forth and weaving the strands into an exquisite tapestry. I was immediately swept up in this quirky, raucous, and bewitching family saga. Swyler’s prose is so polished and elegant it reads effortlessly, even as her distinct voice shines through—her rendering of the sea and its savage appetite rivals that of Annie Proulx’s in The Shipping News. I absolutely loved this book, and consumed it whole. My only complaint is that I am already on the edge of my seat waiting for her next.” —Sara Gruen

"The Book of Speculation is a luscious experience—dark, sweet, and wild." —Katherine Dunn

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  "Deftly woven beautiful tale"by Jodie B. (see profile) 11/16/15

4.5 stars With elegant, polished prose, Erika Swyler weaves together a wonderful tale of fortune tellers, a mute wild boy, mermaids, a painted, electric man, an antiquarian bookseller, & a librarian, curses,... (read more)

by Angela C. (see profile) 09/26/15

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