Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill

Up front is passion. Never over-rated but can be debilitating in some circumstances. Time mutes and love transforms. Attachment is under-rated, comfort being a negative – and there is much to recommend it. Of course there are multitudinous variations on the core, but one factor is known – if it’s out of synch then it can invite disaster.


Jenny Offill is the first to admit that this slight, in volume, book of hers should be a hard sell. ‘If someone described this novel to me, I would never had read it.’ the author tells one interviewer. It is a potpourri, an amalgam of fragments in the form of musings, random facts and quotes from the great wordsmiths the author obviously admires. Interspersing all this are micro-vignettes on the course of a marriage. Each small chapter is akin to a string of pearls – each oyster-spit shone to a sheen and in the whole, strangely relevant.

It takes a while to pick up the rhythm, but once that is cottoned on to this slim, not autobiographical, not a memoir, entrances. So much features – from the black dog to battles with parasitic bugs to the exploration of outer space.

A best seller in the US, it’s raised hardly a ripple in Oz against the ‘Gone Girls’ and ‘Girls on a Train’ overload – but Offill can hardly credit her success Stateside. Her last novel for adults was before the turn of the millennium. ‘Dept. of Speculation’ had a very long gestation, with the author filling in the gap with her teaching and well received picture books.

The novel is a mini-treatise on motherhood, wrangling a wayward husband and how, for women, it is impossible to become an ‘art monster’ ie devote oneself entirely to one’s writing to the rejection of all else. Men, it is claimed, have the luxury of doing this with no roadblocks whatsoever.

The two parties involved in this rendering are, for a time, out of synch. In recording their journey there are lessons to be discerned for all floundering relationships. This small tome swims against the tide in more ways than one and is well worth the effort to track down. On my daughter’s recommendation I am so glad I went to that effort. Thank you Katie.


Jenny Offill’s web-site =

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