Review: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill












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.

My Review:

“Advice for wives circa 1896: The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject. Besides the false views of human nature it will impart … it produces an indifference to the performance of domestic duties, and contempt for ordinary realities.” (BHaha, Really?!)

This book was on many “2014 Best Reads of the Year” lists and after reading the synopsis, I decided I needed to read this book. My curiosity behind all the hype surrounding this book was another reason I wanted to check it out.

The narrator in this book who’s a wife and mother of a baby girl, describes her life’s up and downs. The story is centered around both the baby girl and the marriage but has the feel of being a collage of significant life moments. Each moment was described in a way that drilled down to the details of that moment but the situations leading to these moments was not told in a detailed story like way that she feels defines her life. The author was able to compartmentalize these events and speculate as to why these events occurred and how it impacted her life. (Hence the title of the book!)

I read another review on this book and it described the book as as set of life events strewn around on a table as if the events were puzzle pieces and then placed together to figure out how she ended up where she was in each phase of her married life, and I agree. The narrator seems also convinced that her point of view is all that matters. Honestly, after completing this book I felt like it was a very interesting read. I found the fun facts entertaining. The narrative writing style is a bit different than what I’m used to. I did find the that Dept. of Speculation was a interesting, but short read.

“There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year, and X years in a life. Solve for X.”


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