Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill


Jenny Offill’s second novel Dept. Of Speculation may be short but it is a book that whilst compact in size contains so much within its 177 pages. It is told in an unusual, almost disjointed way, and it tells the story of a marriage from the first meeting right through to the aftermath of an affair.

‘Memories are microscopic. Tiny particles that swarm together and apart’

Our narrator is a writer and teacher who recalls memories of her early adult life most notably meeting and falling in love with her eventual husband. She is an artistic person who is adjusting to married life and motherhood. The structure of the novel is fragmented and quite unlike most books I have read before. This disjointed narrative is representative of our protagonist’s mental state. It is almost like a jumble of thoughts switching between the interesting elements of her creative life to the relatively mundane tasks she undertakes in her life as a mother and wife. As the narrator recounts the story of her married life these memories are interspersed with quotes and facts. This was certainly unusual but I found these snippets interesting and it helped me as a reader to feel closer to the character, and to understand what makes her tick.

‘Lying in bed, you’d cradle my skull as if there were a soft spot there that needed to be protected’

I really liked the portrayal of love in this novel. It explores various stages of a relationship – everything from meeting and moving in to getting married. But it also explores the unpleasant side of a marriage, the claustrophobia she experiences as she feels almost trapped in this existence. It is revealed that she never intended to be a wife; instead she wanted to become an ‘art monster’ who does not concern herself with the mundane things in life. There is then the matter of her partner’s infidelity and how we deal with that, how we can move on.  It is unflinchingly honest and a real insight into the highs and lows of falling in love.

‘Is she a good baby? People would ask me.

Well, no, I’d say’

Along with its portrayal of marriage the novel is also honest in its representation of motherhood and the challenges a new mother may face. Our narrator confides she wasn’t intended to be a mother and many of her thoughts centre on her struggle to adjust to motherhood. She learns to adjust to her daughter’s routine and how to deal with the seemingly friendly, caring remarks from relatives or passers-by – which only leads to more frustration. However, whilst she appears to be anxious and struggles with life as a parent, there are certain moments where the animal instinct of unconditional love for our child is present:

‘But the smell of her hair. The way she clasped her hand around my fingers. This was like medicine’

I really enjoyed reading Dept. Of Speculation. It is a book that can be read in one sitting that certainly leaves an impression. It is an innovative look at life, and a look at how a marriage can change a life – for better or for worse.

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