‘Dept. of Speculation’ by Jenny Offill

‘Dept. of Speculation’ by Jenny Offill  (2014)  – 177 pages

 ‘’Up until the seventeenth century, it was widely believed that magnets had souls.  How else could an object attract and repel?”  

17402288If you are looking for a traditional novel with a structured plot and endearing characters, avoid ‘Dept. of Speculation’ by Jenny Offill like the plague.  But if you can handle more modern offbeat fare, ‘Dept. of Speculation’ might be just the novel for you.

This novel is a collage type work with short paragraphs containing as the title indicates speculation, brief images and insights, facts, and literary tidbits on the order of ‘Speedboat’ by Renata Adler or the works of David Markson.  It is a slim novel, and I found it well worth the little time spent.

Take the following lines from ‘Dept. of Speculation’:

“What Keats said: No such thing as the world becoming an easy place to save you soul in.” 

Many people really do not care what Keats said. However I found this line and the many others like it fascinating. 

There is a story here about the birth and young childhood of a daughter and then a marriage unraveling.  Fortunately the patchwork of bits in ‘Dept of Speculation’ do add up to a coherent story, not like some of David Markson’s later novels which seem to have no point beyond the fascinating quotes and facts themselves.

 “There is a picture of my mother holding me as a baby, a look of naked love on her face.  For years, it embarrassed me.  Now there is a picture of me with my daughter looking exactly the same way.”

One of her definitions struck a little too close to home.  “Art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things.  Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella.”  ‘Art Monster’ fits the person I am a little too close for comfort.

I suppose ‘Dept. of Speculation’ would be classified in the category of Post-Modernism.  Some people reject even the modern, let alone the post-modern, out of hand.  All I can say is that I found ‘Dept. of Speculation’ original, insightful, and rewarding     


5 responses to this post.

  1. It sounds very interesting. I’m familiar with Markson but haven’t read him yet. I’ll check this out.

    Art monster sounds perhaps painfully pointed. I recognise myself a bit there too.



    • Hi Max,
      I remember reading Markson’s ‘This is Not a Novel’ on a flight to Europe. That worked great, because all the literary allusions were fun to read and didn’t require continuous concentration. Being an art monster I can get into the latest post-post-modern novels as well as War and Peace or Jane Austen



  2. Thanks for your review, I’ve been wondering about this book. Since I like both Markson and Adler I think this book and I might get along pretty well. Now I just have to figure out how to add it into the already tottering “in progress” pile.



    • Hi Stefanie,
      ‘Dept. of Speculation’ is a very quick read. It only took me a couple days to complete the book, and I’m a slow reader. If you like Markson and Adler, I’m quite sure you will like this book.



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