Book Review – The Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill
The Dept of Speculation is a slightly unusual novel. On one hand it is almost poetic with some beautiful language and imagery (and laugh out loud sections). However on the other, the lack of a more traditional narrative structure means whilst I found it endlessly quotable it probably isn’t one for me.
Plot in a Nutshell
The Dept of Speculation is a story of an unnamed couple as they fall in love and start a life together. It reflects on the reality of ups and downs of married life with first a baby and then young child. The husband cheats and much of the novel is about how both the wife and the couple cope with this.
The Dept of Speculation is a novella– my copy is 175 pages of fairly large typeface. Each page contains perhaps 3 or 4 paragraphs which regularly are not interconnected. Many are sharp observations; cleverly witty or almost poetic in nature. However I found this slightly disconnected style difficult to read. Even though it is effective at moving the story forward the effect seemed a little jarring. On the writing itself I found most of it pretty approachable and the observations on marriage and motherhood were particularly astute and moving. I did not however care for the regular quoting of other artists and authors, e.g. comments like “As Emily Dickinson said,” “When Martin Luther said, “What Rilke said” popped up with surprising regularity. Taken with the style the novel felt more pretentious than it should.
In terms of narrative it is a sadly ordinary little story. In many ways rather depressing despite the chink of light and hope for the couple’s marriage at the end. The tone overall is negative, the underlying theme, with the exception of the joys and fears for their daughter is of a couple who have not achieved their dreams and are somewhat despondently living their life. I found the proposed (but thankfully unsent) Christmas card / newsletter update really frustrating rather than moving. Surely something good must have happened that year!
Also worth noting that we never really get to know or become invested in either character – all are nameless throughout the novel and I am not sure anyone (including their daughter!) is particularly likeable although possibly all too relatable.
A short read that is likely to split readers. I’m glad I read it but not sure I would recommend.
Buy the Dept of Speculation