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Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Published on Thursday, March 10, 2016

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Department of Experimental Writing

The Department of Speculation is a code word for the uncertainties in a relationship used between a couple when they exchanged pre-marriage love letters   What ensues is the story of a modern life and a modern marriage told in snippets by the female half of the couple.  We don’t know her name or her husband’s, and we only get to see things from her point of view.  There’s no plot and there is no real narrative - just the thoughts, observations, memories, and speculations of the “wife.”  But from a single point of view, that’s more or less how life unfolds - in little random thoughts, quirks, doubts, ordinary incidents that are striking, curious, and sometimes even life-changing.   Is the “narrator” biased?  Probably.  Are her observations reliable?  It’s hard to say.  Do you care about her and the other characters?  Not especially.  Is the book memorable?  No, not to me.


Yet, somehow this very unconventional novel is intriguing, entertaining, sometimes funny, and a very enjoyable read.  This is an experimental writing form that, in the hands of Jenny Offill, works.  I don’t think I’d like to see the narrative novel disappear in exchange for what seems more like blogging or a collection of stream of conscious journal entries.  But having said this, I really, really enjoyed this book.

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