Knopf; First Edition
Jenny Offill has created a small, perfectly formed novel here – it’s also an experimental text, playful, deceptive, intriguing.
We read Dept. of Speculation – a novel, told essentially (and effectively) in connected prose poems – as if we are eavesdropping on post-it notes that hint at traces of a marriage. We are spying through the keyhole, we are the nosy neighbour determining what we can from a swift letterbox-conversation. But we’re also – in these précis sketches – told more than we might find out over pages of exposition elsewhere.
Offill’s version of economy is deft, but made all the more remarkable for what it gives us in terms of inner workings. We’re placed right there in the psyche, the work is done for us and we get to read between the lines – the formatting of the book, spacing between short prose-poem pieces, almost tells us that we’re required to fill in (some of) the blanks.
Dept. of Speculation is a tale of urban ennui, of daily grind and the several shades of grey inside and around a marriage as it softly crumbles. It’s a novel about marriage and infidelity. It’s a novel about the corduroy perceptions around comfort. And it’s a novel that tells you so much in such short bursts.
It’s also very funny, the kind of comedy that never lapses over into full-blown satire but is informed, in its dryness, by satire at its best.
Offill is a remarkable writer – and this nuanced slip of a novel, it’s a novella in high heels if anything – is best read in one sitting, or at least in just a few short bursts, little break between. There’s a relentlessness that pushes this on, helping also to inform the style.