For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our thirteenth book is Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill and the review is written by Tara Byrne.
I’ll be honest and say it: the reason I wanted to read this book is because the cover is real pretty. Sue me. Fortunately, that was not the only good thing about Dept. of Speculation. Jenny Offill offers a brutally honest and in-depth view into the mind of her protagonist. A protagonist who doesn’t have a name, nor do any of the other characters. The story revolves around a wife, a husband, their daughter, and the occasional friend or (past) lover. Told from the perspective of the wife, the story starts with her meeting the husband and goes from there, spanning years of relationship troubles, work hardships and tiresome motherhood. The wife in question is a writer struggling to write a second novel. The relationship between her and her husband gets strained when they have a daughter to raise. From melancholic to depressed, Offill knows that the wife isn’t easy to be with and isn’t afraid to show it.
The story is told in a unique way: there’s the lack of names, dates and overall structure – seemingly random bits of trivia, albeit poetic, pop up during the book. There are approximately 46 chapters, all around four pages long, consisting of small paragraphs. The narrative changes through out the book. This all can lead to a love it or hate it perspective from the reader, which is something that became clear during our last book club. People love the book because it feels so intimate, like reading a persons deepest thoughts as they go along. You can relate to the wife because you can fill in the gaps in her experiences with your own life struggles. Other people dislike the book because you don’t find out enough about the characters to really relate and there is too much left open to the imagination.
Me, I am somewhere in between. I didn’t love it but I certainly didn’t hate it either. The writing grabbed my attention and sucked me in. Before I knew it, I had read the book in one sitting. But perhaps I read it a bit too fast, ‘cause the poetic interludes didn’t do much for me and in the end I didn’t really know how to feel about this woman. Then again, maybe that’s the point.
Dept. of Speculation is Jenny Offill’s second novel, it was released fifteen years after her first novel. It’s not hard to imagine this book as a semi autobiographical tale. I hope we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for Offill’s third novel, because I am curious what else she has in store.