Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny OffillDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on January 28, 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 192
Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.
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Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art. With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.

Eh, I just don’t feel very enthusiastic about this one. Would it take another read, maybe? Should it take another read? It’s only 192 pages! I finished it and felt like I didn’t really remember anything specific about it at all. Nothing lingered. It has a distinctly surreal feel, but I couldn’t help but think, “Murakami pulls this kind of thing off so much better…” (Unfair comparison, I know.)

While I was reading, I enjoyed this well enough. There were a lot of spot-on quotes about love, marriage, parenthood. . .the kind of sentences that make you feel like someone out there gets it. But I still needed something to tie it all together for me—maybe for the main character to feel more tangible?—and that element wasn’t there.

That being said, I loved the book’s quirky format and the lovely way Offill writes. I’d definitely be open to reading something else by her in the future.

We’ll be discussing Dept. of Speculation this Wednesday on The Socratic Salon. If you’ve read it (or don’t mind spoilers) stop on by and join the conversation!

  • I felt exactly the same way about this book as you. I enjoyed it as I read it, felt like she really ‘got’ a lot of things, but none of it really stuck with me. I felt pretty ‘meh’ about it. Glad to know it’s not just me!

  • I completely agree with you, and also felt pretty so-so about it. I was hoping to give it a re-read before TSS chat, but that just didn’t pan out. P.S. Sorry you’re sick again 🙁

  • Monika, I thought I felt this way ONLY because I was on some sort of crazed Twizzler high late in the Readathon – hahaha! Now, I don’t feel so bad! I really, really loved her writing and, like you, I’ve highlighted SO many passages that I thought were amazing…and then I finished the book and a day has passed and I’m like, “okay, what was that about?” I’m really looking forward to the discussion on The Socratic Salon!!

  • I need to read this one. I’ve seen a couple quotes from it that exactly fit your description: “spot-on quotes about love, marriage, parenthood. . .the kind of sentences that make you feel like someone out there gets it.”. I love this kind of writing.

  • I loved this book, but I can totally understand your criticisms. I guess they just didn’t bother me much?

  • Susan W

    I listened to the audio last March, when it first came out. I liked it well enough to give it 4 stars on GR, but now I couldn’t tell you anything specific about it at all. Honestly, the first thing I remember about it was that it was short.

  • Jennine G.

    Eh, don’t feel bad. I have read so many reviews of this book and it has yet to seem interesting to me.

  • Sadly, with all the A exam studying I’ve been doing, I won’t be able to get this read before the discussion. Even though you didn’t feel very enthusiastic about this one, it has a lot of elements that appeal to me, so I’m still looking forward to reading it 🙂