Gasp! I do actually still read books. And then I, even more sporadically, write reviews! I have read many good, and even a few great, books in my long absence, but I always seem to write more reviews in my mind than I actually sit down and write here on the family blog. But in the short minutes of the perfect storm of cooperation that my children are currently displaying, I thought I'd let you know about this gem of a book.
The Book of Speculation was reviewed as recommendation for people who loved The Night Circus. I thought: "You should write that down. You won't remember the name of it and you LOVED The Night Circus. Go ahead. Write it down. Or even pre-order it. DO IT!" Then I didn't. Until it popped up on another list and I finally pulled the trigger and bought the book. I read it in its entirety during a long weekend trip to the Great Wolf Lodge. And though the subject matter is distinctly aquatic, I did not take the book to the water park, which means I gave up precious moments of sleep to read it. I don't regret that decision. Remember how East of Eden revived Oprah's Book Club? Well, it did. And though I wouldn't compare this to a classic literary work (East of Eden is really good and I'm not always a lover of Hemingway), this revived my desire to review.
There are similarities between The Night Circus and The Book of Speculation in that they both follow family lines for generations, carnivals and circuses do play a large part in the setting and the plot, and much is forfeited to fate and destiny. However, The Book of Speculation centers on the past affecting those in the present while the The Night Circus doesn't make it that far in its mythology. The Book of Speculation centers its magic around sirens (or mermaids or rusalkas) and tarot rather than the use of magic and sleight of hand as The Night Circus does. They are indeed different stories with similar overarching themes: both great reads.
In The Book of Speculation, a librarian receives a very old and water-damaged book from a stranger who had purchased it at an estate auction in a larger lot of other items (hence the book purchased on speculation). Simon starts digging into the people and the history of the images in the book all while his life is figuratively and literally falling apart. He lives in his childhood home which is on its last days of being on land as it sits precipitously on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Simon does not have the money to save the house from its demise and must ask a neighbor and family friend for help. Which becomes even more difficult as Simon learns more about the people in this mysterious book and the more recent history of his parents and their relationship with these neighbors. To further complicate things, Simon's sister is coming back to town for a visit and she seems unwell. She's obsessed with her tarot cards (her current profession in a traveling carnival) and seems haunted by what the cards show her. All of this as Simon discovers a pattern to the tragic deaths: there is a succession of suicides by drowning in his family. All women, all circus/carnival performers, all "mermaids", and all dead around a certain time period, now Simon is compelled to learn more to try to break this inheritance of tragedy.
The book jumps from century to century fairly seamlessly, and I loved that each time it jumped I missed the other storyline while I was reading about the other characters. I also enjoyed the description of the towns and cities up and down the East Coast frequented by the traveling circus during colonial times. I imagine the amount of research that went into writing this book is staggering, but well worth the time in my opinion. Just as giving up precious moments of sleep to read this selection is well worth the extra cup of coffee you'll need the next morning.