Review: ‘Dept. of Speculation’ by Jenny Offill

A couple of weekends ago I was at Cheltenham Literature Festival, attending a speaking event with Sarah J Maas. Whoever thought it would be a sensible idea to let me loose at a festival with a massive Waterstones tent full of books is anyone’s guess. I came away with five new books, one of which I whizzed all the way through on the day while waiting for my event to start and then on the park and ride bus back. I don’t take buses often, but even so, it’s been a while since a book was so good that feeling slightly travel sick was worth it reading it anyway while in transit.

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There are two accolades from the cover of the book which drew me to it, and which after reading I think are really accurate descriptions. The first, below, is from the very short blurb:

…navigates the jagged edges of modern marriage…

I loved how this story reflects marriage as the centre of gravity which a life is built, or re-arranged, around – that it covers and includes the work, friends and histories of the individuals involved. There is little which is irrelevant to the marriage of two persons. All of the things that make them themselves, will also define them as a couple – will affect their shared life. The focus of this story is always, undoubtedly, the marriage at its heart, yet it takes in plenty more than that.

The other accolade that caught my attention was from Maggie O’Farrell:

It’s almost impossible to re-invent the novel as a form these days but [this] does just that.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I absolutely loved the off-beat style that this story is told in, the intense short bursts in which narrator speaks to reader. I’ve never read anything like this, enough that when finishing I almost wanted to read it over again immediately. I am certain that I will reread this in the future – there is plenty I will have missed first time round.

At 177 pages, this is also a lovely short read, perfect to pick up and get through in one sitting. I absolutely loved it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The style is unconventional enough as to not be everyone’s taste, but for a very thin volume it made a huge impression on me.

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