‘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?”
If 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