Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

 

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The Department of Speculation is, as stated by its title, puzzling. It’s just under 200 pages in 46 chapters, but made up of disjointed paragraphs and one line statements. There are characters, but there are no names, only pro-nouns and titles like I or She or Husband. There is a plot but it’s not immediately evident. It’s supposedly epistolary but comes across as steam of consciousness or a diary.

It’s an odd and unusual execution of what is essentially the start, lifespan and breakdown of a relationship. Certainly not a style to everyone’s taste.

But I enjoyed it for some of its one liners and asides- it’s very funny in places. The cultural allusions she pulls in are great and mimic the randomness of actual thought: I didn’t expect to find ‘Can I Haz Cheeseburger’ and Yeats within 100 pages.

Perhaps Offill is a bit too self-consciously constructed and kooky and art-sy for my taste. But it’s so short that I can’t possibly object to an interesting experiment with form, with some lovely prose in it.

Read: To impress a literary critic/your bookiest friend. It was Guardian, Telegraph and New York Times Book of the Year in 2015

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