Genre: Fiction
Published: 6 March 2014
Publisher: Granta

Dept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill


‘They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same: Dept. of Speculation.’

They used to be young, brave, and giddy with hopes for their future. They got married, had a child, and skated through all the small calamities of family life. But then, slowly, quietly something changes. As the years rush by, fears creep in and doubts accumulate until finally their life as they know it cracks apart and they find themselves forced to reassess what they have lost, what is left, and what they want now.

Written with the dazzling lucidity of poetry, DEPT. OF SPECULATION navigates the jagged edges of a modern marriage to tell a story that is darkly funny, surprising and wise.

"Jenny Offill's DEPT. OF SPECULATION resembles no book I've read before. If I tell you that it's funny, and moving, and true; that it's as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897. Will you please simply believe me, and read it?" - Michael Cunningham
"A heartbreaking and exceptional book by a writer who doesn't settle for less... Sad, funny, philosophical, at once deeply poetic and deeply engaging, this is a brilliant, soulful elegy to the hardships and joys of married life." - Lydia Millet
"DEPT. OF SPECULATION is gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways."
- Sam Lipsyte
"This delicious sliver of a book does what only the best epistolary novels can: it forces the heart and mind into direct contact, one lush, lovely line at a time. I've found not only a new beloved author in Offill but also a witty new friend in the wife." - Taiye Selasi
"Popping prose and touching vignettes of marriage and motherhood fill Offill’s slim second book of fiction. Clever, subtle, and rife with strokes of beauty, this book is both readable in a single sitting and far ranging in the emotions it raises... Her mind wanders from everyday tasks and struggles, the beginnings of her marriage, the highs and lows with her husband, the joys of having a daughter. These domestic bits are contrasted by far-flung thoughts that whirl in every direction, from space aviation and sea exploration to ancient philosophy and Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics. Anecdotes and quotes also come from all over: Einstein, Eliot, Keats, Rilke, Wittgenstein, Darwin, and Carl Sagan. Often, the use of third person places the heroine at a distance, examining the macro-reality of her life, but then Offill will zoom in, giving the reader a view into her heroine’s inner life—notes, graded papers and corrected manuscripts, monologues, imagined Christmas cards and questionnaires. Offill has equal parts cleverness and erudition, but it’s her language and eye for detail that make this a must-read." - Publishers Weekly
"Jenny Offill’s short, sharp and insightful book is an enthralling look at modern life, marriage and motherhood. Told from the point of the view of "the wife", who writes to her husband, this is a stunning account of one woman’s predicament in the grey space between domestic life and art. As she confronts an array of catastrophes in her life as a mother, wife and stalled artist, she muses on the experience of maternal love and the self-destruction of her own career.Sparkling with wit and full of sentences you will want to stick all over your fridge, DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a fierce, important read." - Stylist
"Offill has created a masterpiece that is philosophical, funny and moving. This is a book that’s not easily forgotten. Let’s hope it’s not another 15 years before her next." - Irish Times
"Dept. of Speculation” is all the more powerful because, with its scattered insights and apparently piecemeal form, it at first appears slight. Its depth and intensity make a stealthy purchase on the reader... Offill’s brief book eschews obvious grandeur. It does not broadcast its accomplishments for the cosmos but tracks the personal and domestic and local, a harrowed inner space. It concentrates its mass acutely, pressing down with exquisite and painful precision, like a pencil tip on the white of the nail." - James Wood, The New Yorker
"I love the writing in DEPT. OF SPECULATION, and I have laughed over Offill’s best, funniest jokes even when they are no longer new to me. But I think the reason I keep coming back to this wonderful little book over and over again is Offill’s determined insistence that a kind of purity is available to all of us... Reading “Dept. of Speculation” is like finding that the stars are still visible in the biggest, brightest city, if we remember to look for them." - The Washington Post
"Written with such clarity and poetry that at times it is almost unbearably moving. And yet it has some intensely funny and witty moments, too." - Rhiannon Lucy Coslett, Guardian Books of the Year
"Jenny Offill’s excellent DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a fascinating examination of the complexity of the female writer’s post-childbirth experience of work as well as an astute, unsentimental portrayal of a foundering marriage." - Eimear McBride, Guardian Books of the Year
"The best novel I read this year was DEPT. OF SPECULATION by Jenny Offill. I keep finding excuses to quote the opening lines." - Joe Dunthorne, Observer Books of the Year
"DEPT. OF SPECULATION, an elliptical, deeply intelligent mediation on parental and romantic love." - Stuart Evers, Observer Books of the Year
"Jenny Offill’s DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a delectable and generous book: the novel of a marriage, written with elegance and wisdom and learning in bittersweet paragraphs: “The wife is praying a little. To Rilke, she thinks.” (Good luck with that!) It’s like a flotilla of origami shapes. Burning." - Michael Hofmann, TLS Books of the Year
"Extraordinary… Composed of fragments – shards of smashed memory; off-beat jokes; oddments of scientific information; lists – it tells the story of a happy marriage shattered by infidelity. Depressing? Far from it. Heartbreaking, yes; angry; but also very funny." - Harriett Gilbert, Radio Times Books of the Year
"Jenny Offill’s DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a tale of urban motherhood and adultery told in fragments, scraps, quotations. A formal experiment that never seems forced or precious, it’s a small marvel of economy and wit."
- Lidija Haas, TLS Books of the Year
"I have read and re-read Jenny Offill’s ingenious, moving and refreshing DEPT. OF SPECULATION. It manages to reinvent the whole medium of the novel. And that’s certainly not something you see every day." - Maggie O'Farrell, Sunday Herald Books of the Year
"Offill’s slender and cannily paced novel, her second, assembles fragments, observations, meditations and different points of view to chart the course of a troubled marriage. Wry and devastating in equal measure, the novel is a cracked mirror that throws light in every direction — on music and literature; science and philosophy; marriage and motherhood and infidelity; and especially love and the grueling rigors of domestic life. Part elegy and part primal scream, it’s a profound and unexpectedly buoyant performance." - New York Times, 5 Best Fiction Books of the Year
"DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a series of short dispatches from the front line of a marriage. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Jenny Offill lays bare the quiet madness of love, and the result is a profound and affecting read." - Louise O'Neill, Irish Times Books of the Year