The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The cover alone was intriguing but when the description said words like books, librarian, magic, and family ... I was ALL IN. It sounded like something right up my alley. I'm so glad that I picked this one up. It's a book for readers, for people who value books as objects and as a way to escape. But, I will warn you ... it's not a fast-paced thriller of a book. At it's heart, it's a quiet novel about a family over the generations.
The story is told in two narratives - The first is of a librarian who is going through a rough time and is sent an old book that is the log from a traveling carnival from the 18th century. This book contains information about his family and opens the door for his exploration of the history of his family. The second narrative tells the story that is described in the log book that the librarian has in his possession. It's the story of a traveling carnival and the librarian's ancestors. I found myself loving both narratives which I was frankly surprised by. I'm typically drawn to one or the other. But, in this novel, I found myself eager to read both pieces equally.
I'm a little surprised that this is a debut novel - I didn't find all of the little flaws I typically see in a debut. It's a slow, deliberate novel. There isn't much fast action or anything ... it's just a good, solid story told through characters that are quite compelling. There is a darkness in this novel that I found surprising but completely appropriate, given the context of the story. Several reviews I've read of this novel talk about it being slow, boring and tedious. I couldn't disagree more although I understand that this type of novel isn't for everyone. You have to sort of sink into the prose, embrace the world and just go with it. I think it's completely worth the journey.
I found the carnival aspect of the novel to be one of the most compelling aspects - perhaps because most carnival people are a bit different than the average person. There is a sense of family among the carnival acts which allows for rich storytelling and interesting character dynamics. It (almost) made me want to join a carnival!
One of my favorite parts of the novel was finding the bits and pieces of the story that connect both narratives. The mystery and exploration of those things was so interesting to me. I found myself intrigued by all of them - tarot cards, horseshoe crabs, water, and the tides. I loved pulling them all together as I read, loving the sense of collection that it gave me as a reader.
And the bookish pieces, of course, made the story all the more enjoyable for me. The library, the draw of a book, the mystery of a book, the searching and researching ... it all just felt so soothing to me. I felt at home with this book in some way which is why I would argue that this novel is one that may appeal especially to book lovers.
Until I began to write this review, I didn't really realize quite how much I enjoyed it or how much it's stuck with me since finishing it. I don't think this is a book for everyone - if you need fast pacing, this may well not be the book for you. But, if you love books and want to sink into a book that celebrates books and offers a unique and compelling story, I highly recommend this one!
THIS BOOK WILL COME OUT ON JUNE 23RD SO BE SURE TO LOOK FOR IT THEN!
NOTE: I received a galley of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.