Dept. of Speculation

specDept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
2014 / 180 pages
rating: 9.5 / contemp fiction (experimental?)

Contrary to some of what I’ve read about this book,  it has a plot.  Stuff does happen to interesting characters in chronological order and it fits – there’s a certain tension about it and the reader wonders how is this going to turn out.   It’s just that parts of the plot are missing and the fictional characters are without names.

No, although I was tempted,  I’m not going to annotate  a 180-page novel which is basically about a woman whose desire is to create monster art  but ends up side-tracked by marriage and family.  Offill included a lot of interesting things in it though.  Sometimes the references are just names, other times there’s a whole quote by someone usually associated with science and space or philosophy and religion – or psychology maybe.  It’s a very literary novel – experimental in some ways.

The narrative itself consists of short snips of life, really they’re anecdotes,  in chronological order,  written by a woman who works as a fact-checker and then ghost-writer.  She loves her husband and daughter but she seems to have sacrificed quite a lot in exchange for a life of bed-bugs, lice, broken arms,  and the tedium of daily life. It used to be better.  But it gets worse.

None of the characters is ever named –  it’s “the wife,” “the husband,”  “daughter,” philosopher, neighbor,   only the historic personages have names – i.e. Kant and Einstein.

Wonderful book – excellent in concept as well as execution.  Perfect structure and style.  I might have to read this again.

3 Responses to Dept. of Speculation

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    I thought it was interesting that none of the characters were named: it had a sort of distancing effect, and maybe also a universal one as well?


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