Book Review – Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
December 14, 2014
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, bedbugs, 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 can be read in a single sitting, but there are enough bracing emotional insights in these pages to fill a much longer novel.
I picked this book up after reading a very positive view on another blog (see review on River City Reading). I didn’t quite share the same level of enthusiasm for the book as Shannon did. The book has a unique style of prose which might engage some people. Personally, I prefer to be drawn into a story and develop an understanding of the characters involved. I did come to understand the wife more as the story progressed, but the husband remains very undefined in so many ways even when you are finished reading.
At a mere 177 pages with lots of white space, I was able to whip this book out in a couple of hours. If you are looking for a quick read, then this could be the book for you. If you are someone who likes to spend time with a story and its characters, then you’ll probably want to take a pass on this one. I don’t think this is a terrible book, but it left me feeling unfulfilled.
What did you think of this book? Do you prefer shorter novels with a unique structure or do you prefer traditional longer novels?