I requested The Book of Speculation from the library because I loved the title and the cover art. It appealed to me and so I put it on hold and after several months, I finally rose to the top of the queue and took it home to read. Purely by coincidence, I was reading Eleanor first and it is only coincidence that puts them in my reading list one after the other. They both tell the stories of people whose mothers drown in the ocean, so I felt the need to make clear I did seek out books about mothers who drown. I had no idea what the plot of The Book of Speculation was before I began reading it.
Simon’s house is falling apart around him and the ocean is eroding the breakfront that keeps it from washing away into the ocean, but his life is falling apart, too. He income from the library was far too little to fix anything and worse, he has just been laid off and has little hope of finding new work in the area. He might feel more free to just abandon the house and seek work farther afield but he is in love with his neighbor’s daughter Alice and he feels a deep obligation to keep the home there for his wandering, circus tarot-reader sister to come home to if she ever needs it.
Simon and his Elona (Yes, as in the plane that dropped the bomb!) are not as close as they should be. He has been her caretaker for too much of their life after their mother drowned in the ocean, an apparent suicide, and their father checked out of his fatherly obligations to mourn his lost wife until his own death. But they are their mother’s children. She was a sideshow mermaid holding her breath underwater, someone who could not drown, until she did. He and Elona have learned her skill as a swimmer and Elona continues the family tradition of tarot reading.
And into this comes a mysterious book, one that seems to hold old family secrets, secrets that terrify Simon as he comes to believe his family may be cursed and begins to fear for his sister. Using his skills as a research librarian, he tries to unravel the mystery and, he hopes, save his sister. But who will save him?
I enjoyed the Book of Speculation. It is well-written for the most part and the story is engaging. However, I found myself bogged down a few times wishing it would just move on already. This is because Simon, for all his professional expertise as a researcher, is sometimes thick as a block of wood. It is okay to be ahead of person investigating the mystery, but not so far that you begin to think, “Come on, already, you can’t be that thick?” I suppose his brain was addled by love and unemployment. I also wish the story had told us more of the intervening generations, giving us glimpses of these lives, not just names. Still, the story is original and unique, so I am glad to have read it.