Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Dept. of Speculation
People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes.

Dept. of Speculation was on my wishlist on the merit of the many positive reviews I read about it. This wasn't a much hyped book, just a book that seemed to silently win many fans. If you had asked me what I knew about the book before I started reading it, I could tell you nothing. So it wasn't a surprise when I started reading it that I was more shocked than enamored by the format of the book.

The book is full of mostly 3-4 line long paragraphs, each dealing with distinct ideas, thoughts, facts, or experiences. This book is what your Twitter feed could look like if you made a book containing all your tweets. Context is limited to each passage and it will be a while before you get a feel for the person behind the passage. This is also a difficult book to read in multiple sittings. If you can get through it in one sitting, you will probably be rewarded the most. (I finished it in two sittings.)

Did I manage to turn you away from this book by now? I may also have not read it if someone introduced me to it the same way.

Would you believe I loved this book by the end?

Dept. of Speculation is a book about many things - love, marriage and its decline, raising a child, mid-life crisis, stalling of ambitions - but it is mainly about dissatisfaction - about marriage, being a mother, and not having something to live for. It could have been just like any other book dealing with these themes, but the format Offill goes for - a string of thoughts from beginning to end - makes this book unique. Rather than trying to set the backdrop in a straightforward way as is the case in most books, she lets these thoughts paint a picture of a woman who is very disappointed with her life. And it works - very well! It just took a couple of chapters before I could actually get a strong foothold in this story.

Honestly, I don't want to say much about this book. Experiencing this book is the best way to really feel it. It's even hard to explain much about this book. After I finished a few chapters, I felt the need to put it down and read it when I had a huge block of uninterrupted reading time. Even though each passage in this book is distinct enough, they are really related in a way that isn't obvious initially - they are all trying to describe a person, a person who doesn't feel the need to start with a preamble "I am xyz and I have been married for so-many years, and I have this problem lately..." She takes you on a ride right from the first paragraph and if you don't have your distractions put away and your feet pulled up into your armchair, you aren't going to be able to appreciate it well. Even though this woman isn't exactly in high spirits, the book isn't all doom and gloom. There is plenty of humor and wisdom in it. This is also a very quick and fast read and hard to put down.


The wonderful Care at Care's Online Book Club sent me this book.

10 comments:

Diane D said...

I enjoyed this one a lot as well, and didn't expect too.

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

This book was a quick read for me but left me disappointed in the end. I'm not sure I really "got" it.

Kay said...

OK, I'm hooked with that first little teaser at the top. I laughed. That is what a yoga class is like and though I never thought of the relaxation at the end as pretending to be dead, well, it's not called corpse pose for nothing. :-)

Athira / Aths said...

I love books that just surprise you.

Athira / Aths said...

There are certainly some layers to this book. I thought I may not like it so was surprised when I did.

Athira / Aths said...

That was one of my favorite quotes. That last part of a yoga session is certainly my favorite. I like to pretend that a strenuous yoga session and then just lie down, lol.

literaryfeline said...

Like you, I have heard wonderful things about this book and as a result it's on my wish list. I hadn't realized it was written in that style though. It's not a turn off for me, but it's good to know it's best read in big gulps rather than in short spurts. I don't often get to read a book in one or two sittings, so it may be awhile before I get to this one.

JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said...

You liked this more than I did, but I absolutely agree with your advice to read the book in one sitting if at all possible. Think that would have improved my experience.

Belle Wong said...

I hadn't heard anyone describe the format, and I'm so glad you did. I'd been thinking about this one but wasn't too sure, but it sounds really intriguing. I want to see how all those distinct bits pull together into a cohesive and enjoyable whole!

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

This book was recommended to me by someone who found it their weirdest or quirkiest read. I agree, the book is unique, experimental, in many ways. And you are right - "Experiencing this book is the best way to really feel it." I read it in one sitting. You make me wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much in multiple sittings...