Book Review: The Book of Speculation

“Once you’ve held a book and really loved it, you forever remember the feel of it, its specific weight, the way it sits in your hand.” – Erika Swyler, The Book of Speculation

I’ve always loved reading a book consisting of a group of memorable characters seemingly stuck in a strange situation. Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation is exactly that. It might not be an epic fantasy adventure with orcs but this book is nothing short of a fantastical adventure, and it’s also pretty epic. With eccentric characters taking on both the extraordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life, the story is both relatable and captivating.

Let’s start with the characters. One way to describe Swyler’s portrayal of her characters is vivid. I read The Book of Speculation a few months ago, and yet I can still very clearly remember many of the romanticized descriptions of Alice through the eyes of Simon, our protagonist, as they tick time away catching up in the library. And then there’s Doyle, the boyfriend of Simon’s sister Enola. From the octopi tattoo covering seemingly most of his skin to the light bulb act he puts on in their traveling freak show, there’s nothing left to the imagination- in a good way. Despite the eccentricity of Enola, Doyle, the circus, and the overarching plot of the story involving drowning mermaids, family curses, and wild boys, the limited point-of-view that lends itself to Simon’s logical, often humorous thoughts gives the book its down to earth feel. For instance, Simon isn’t immediately sold on the ‘glowing’ guy his sister brings home after so many years, and his sarcastic thoughts and dialogue give the situation more depth and even add a note of empathy.

Aside from characters, I was immediately drawn to Swyler’s writing style and the general format of this story, which switches off between viewpoints and time periods. While I’ve always been a fan of such a structure and it’s actually quite common, The Book of Speculation excels. Each piece of information, however big or small, is revealed at the perfect moment to make the following section, despite being in the opposite time period, more riveting and cohesive. When reading it, you keep thinking something doesn’t make sense, and yet page-by-page it seems to come together. While at times I’d find the plot of one time period more interesting than the other, the two different plotlines worked well together to enhance each story until they ultimately collided.

Another intriguing aspect of The Book of Speculation is its own appreciation for literature. Simon, being employed in a library, allows Swyler to intersperse lines here and there written in such a descriptive way that they feed into a book-lover’s soul. Check out the quote at the top of this website if you don’t believe me! Not only that, but the entire plot revolves around Simon receiving a strange book unexpectedly, one that he believes holds the key to his ancestor’s mysterious history- or curse. While I didn’t realize this was somewhat of a family drama, and I’m not sure I had ever read one before, I can certainly say I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome! If you’re looking for a unique story that will take you out of this world and into its own, Swyler’s got you covered!

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