Dept. of Speculation – Review

Book: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Year: 2014
Bookhad Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

That one was so beautiful I used to watch him sleep. If I had to sum up what he did to me, I’d say it was this: he made me sing along to all the bad songs on the radio. Both when he loved me and when he didn’t.

Quite possibly the only book I will ever dog-ear. All of it.

The book I will read four times a year.

The book I will keep on my bookshelf, on my phone, on my Kindle, on my office desk.

The book I will write notes about to my husband, who is yet to come.

In this fluidly compact novel lies a strangely haunting narration that comes from “the wife” before she hands over the narrative’s reins to the husband half-way through. This is a portrait of a marriage, thwarted aspirations of being an art monster, dichotomous motherly love, and the weight of a long-lasted out relationship, and it comes packed a lean and slim novel of astounding beauty.

Written a decade after her first novel, this is well worth the time taken to write it. You know what they say about letting a reader fill the gaps of a novel? This novel is full of airy, large gaps and yet, you know everything it’s trying to say. Written in the style of congruous short vignettes the story is of a woman who lives in Brooklyn deeply looking into life with an attention span devoid to most. Not only is she an engaging narrator, but also has a priceless ability to tell her melancholic story in a non-sentimental fashion. How can you deny an audience to a writer who starts off thus:

Antelopes have 10× vision, you said. It was the beginning or close to it. That means that on a clear night they can see the rings of Saturn.

JennyOffillTheir love story is full of sapiosexuality. They didn’t tell me. I filled the gaps. Just as her desire to be an art monster is full of a shadow of despair – she wanted to, but she didn’t. She didn’t tell me, I know it now. And just as her husband’s affair breaks within her everything she was holding on to, after the loss of shine in her relationship, her pregnancy, and her hopes of a fascinating life. She drives around fearing Holiday Inns, and drives around, until one day, she feels better. She didn’t tell me. I just figured it out.

There’s nothing much in terms of plot, really. But then, there’s little in terms of plot to a marriage itself. The vast, endless relationship that starts off steamy on a couch and goes cold on a couch. Of course, I stereotype, but you get the drift. After I had recommended the novel to someone, he said I had scared him off marriage. I don’t think that was Jenny Offill’s intent, at all. Not to dismiss a fellow reader’s opinion – but here’s the thing – how many novels come along accurately depicting human life, even mirroring it? The way they’re written transcends regular novel-beauty thus allowing one to believe in things more magical. It’s a bittersweet experience.

I tell her about Voyager 1 and 2 and the Golden Record. They were like messages in a bottle, I explain, but thrown into outer space instead of the ocean. My daughter is mildly interested. She wants to know what sounds were recorded for the aliens. I find the list and read it to her.

You can practically underline this entire novel because it’s just so interesting. And also because the narrator tells us about so many, many writers, scientists and artists and the things they said. It’s like meeting a person who will tell you that across the oceans, the sky turns a deep green, that trees form communities of their own, that if you plot sentences of some novels they form fractals and you can mathematically see them, and that there is a love in this world that holds hands even when it’s hard to do so. How do you not want to know someone like that? Sure, it might make you sad, but it will also fill you up with a joy of a messed up kind.

An Arabic proverb: One insect is enough to fell a country.

A Japanese proverb: Even an insect one-tenth of an inch long has five-tenths of a soul.

A Lebanese proverb: The bedbug has a hundred children and thinks them too few.

I’ve read this book twice this year and both times, it has captivated me enough that I could finish it straight. It could quite possibly be one of the best books I’ve read this year. There’s a lot of wonder in this book. Like there is a lot of wonder in our lives. And then some punctuation.


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