Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

17402288The reason I read this book was because of all the good reviews I have seen about it.  The writing is good, certainly, and the book is full of passages to ponder.  But the voice and feeling of the book felt sad to me, right from the beginning.  It is told from the point of view of “the wife”.  I felt impatient with her, and like I wanted to give her a good shake.

A lot of the reviews called it a funny book:

“… funny and moving and true.” – Michael Cunningham

“… gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art.”  – Sam Lipsyte

“… deep, funny, and beautifully written…” – Dana Spiotta

“Sad, funny, philosophical…” – Lydia Millet

I would agree that the book is moving, true, profound, deep, sad, philosophical, and beautifully written, but not funny.  If there was “funny” in the book, it didn’t register with me.

I did not love this book, but I can see why others might.  I think it was just not what I was expecting, so I found it disappointing.  I also thought, because of the way it was written, that it was hard to connect with the characters and the story.  But don’t let me dissuade you from trying it for yourselves; many people have loved it.  For one thing, it is short, so it does not take long to read.  Also, it is nicely written and thought-provoking.  There are some very good passages that resonated with me.

The Buddhists say there are 121 states of consciousness.  Of these, only three involve misery or suffering.  Most of us spend our time moving back and forth between these three.

I wanted to cry because I was sure I would never get to be in such a place again… I was thinking what it would be like to live somewhere so beautiful.  Would it fix my brain?

I remember the first time I said the word to a stranger.  “It’s for my daughter,” I said.  My heart was beating too fast, as if I might be arrested.

After you left for work, I would stare at the door as if it might open again.

For fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, she’d suspend her fierce judgment of the world and fall silent there.  And when she did, a tiny space would clear in my head and I could think again.

There is still such crookedness in my heart.  I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.

But my agent has a theory.  She says every marriage is jerry-rigged.  Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.

So it begs the question, doesn’t it?  Did she unkind and ungood and untrue him?

“I think I was afraid to go all in,” she says.  “Because all in is terrifying.  With all in, you lose everything.”

The Zen master Ikkyu was once asked to write a distillation of the highest wisdom.  He wrote only one word: Attention.

Does anyone else have any thoughts about this book that are different, or the same as mine?

11 thoughts on “Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

  1. lauratfrey says:

    I think this is the next book for The Afterword in The National Post. So should get a few perspectives there, I think it appears in the Sunday paper. I’d never heard of it before.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, I’ll look for it. I had seen it reviewed on someone’s blog (I can’t remember which one), then looked it up on Goodreads.

  2. Shannon @ River City Reading says:

    I really loved this book, but the whole time I was reading it there were points when I was thinking “Man, some people are really going to not like this!” so I can totally get that point of view. I think that the disconnected, stream of consciousness style does make it hard to connect with a set of characters, but I just fell in love with the writing.

    • Naomi says:

      The writing was good, and a lot of what she wrote was so spot on that I could just imagine myself doing it or thinking it. Especially the things she had to say about her daughter. The crying, the thinking space that opens up when she stops, the husband leaving the house and her staring at the door behind him. That stuff was all just right. Even though I didn’t love the style, I am glad to have read it.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s always fun to look books up! I spend so much time doing it, sometimes I think it must be more fun than reading them! Maybe not quite. 🙂

  3. writereads says:

    Hmm, I had been wanting to read this after a review in Elle magazine (the US version has a surprisingly good Books section). Thank you for the honest opinion! I’m not sure I’m in the mood for a sad book at the moment, so I think I’ll leave it for now.

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