"Dept of Speculation" Jenny Offill
With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page. (Goodreads blurb)
This actually really is a one sitting read. There are 177 pages but the text is spread out sparsely - almost like poetry, with lots of short paragraphs and chapters. It is a collection of thoughts and reflections about marriage and family life but it is amazing how much can be gleaned about the couple from the efficient choice of images and observations. The author is merely referred to as "the wife" and the narrative charts the roller coaster ride of the course of love; from the initial excitement of marriage, through to parenthood and beyond.
I first came across this book via a quote in someone's blog (sorry, can't remember any more than that!):
"And that phrase - 'sleeping like a baby'. Some blond said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear." This comment really resonated with me and I immediately added the book to my TBR pile then later on, ordered a copy via Amazon.
The novel opens by capturing the emotional state of the narrator:
"Buddhists say there are 121 states of consciousness. Of these only three involved misery or suffering. Most of us spend our time moving bak and forth between these three."
The writing is so understated that it is beautiful:
"I remember the first time I said the word to a stranger. "It's for my daughter," I said. My heart was beating too fast, as if I might be arrested."
Offill's ability to create a relatable, interesting, captivating character through these short, candid statements is impressive. "The wife" is a wonderful character. Although the book is absent of much dialogue and action it is not without events and emotion. The humour is also sophisticated:
"Three things no one has ever said about me: You make it look so easy. You are very mysterious. You need to take yourself more seriously."
"In (my daughter's school reading book) alliteratively named animals go on extremely modest adventures and return with lessons learned. A child in a wheelchair is thoughtfully pencilled in in the background. My daughter yawns as I finish it. 'Tell me a better story,' she says."
"My Very Educated Mother Just Serves Us Noodles is the mnemonic they give her to remember the order of the planets."
I agree with another reviewer on Goodreads who said they literally underlined every sentence in the book! I was without a pen but have (sacrilegiously) folded down the corners of pages with resonant, amusing, sad, pertinent observations -it is nearly every other page! The book is ruined!
This is a really interesting, pensive, reflective read which despite its brevity, induces a huge range of emotions and responses. Some of the reviews on Goodreads are incredible so worth having a little scroll through to see the effect that this book has had on readers!
I highly recommend it. It was different, short, exquisitely written and a complete change of scene from everything else I've read recently. I identified with the character and think the writer is highly skilled in creating pertinent images and moments through her concise use of language. It does leave you a little stunned and dazed at the end - but in a very good way!
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