Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jenny Offill - Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of
intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.
Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.
With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. 

Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.

Comment: This is another of the books picked by one of my book clubs. The blurb didn't seem to intrigue much but the reference to the exchange of letters and the fact I was given the book led me to try it out. However, it turned out not to be what I expected after all.

This is a sort of monologue told by a woman whose name we don't get, we only know her as "the wife" and her tale is one of stress, heartbreak and all the possible things that go around one's head while we simply let the mind wander and think and deal with things. 
 It's a quick story of how things are ok, then change and there's a lot to think about.

So besides the motivation of reading this along with other people whose opinion I trust after months of collective reads, I was also eager to read another story with an epistolary style, which was what I inferred when the blurb mentions "once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation". I thought we'd see the letters or part of them. I like the epistolary style not because it's different but because it allows the plot to move along without direct actions from the characters and that isn't easy.
Unfortunately, there are no letters shown and there's a very quick and small reference to this fact in the whole story. I thought this wasn't such a key idea as it looks like from the blurb and I feel a bit misguided.
All things considered, the title is more suggestive and interesting than the story itself.

The story is told in very small chapters. There are 46 total within 118 pages more or less. It's meant to tell and make us wonder and that's it. Each chapter can be read almost like an entry in a diary and it's filled with countless references to many subjects, all to illustrate what the wife is going through and what she thinks. 
I admit I liked this writing style. It's different enough to make an impression. However, at the same time, it doesn't allow the reader to feel much empathy towards the characters, at least I, personally, didn't. The things we'd learn in each chapter about the wife's life and problems were so disguised between references and the mix of crazy/ clever thoughts I often felt dislocated from it all and had trouble focusing on what she really meant to say.
Summarizing, I liked the idea more than the actual style.

The writing shows a lot of thinking from the author. She had to plan exactly what she wanted to say and how and that is certainly refreshing and specially talented of her. Many things included were extremely precise and thought provoking and I liked that too. This is a good example of literary fiction I think.

Despite some of the positive aspects I liked, I still think a book is worth as a whole, therefore we have to consider all things, not just if it's well written. My reading experience with this story wasn't positive despite the good things and that's why I ended up not enjoying it as much.
The main reason behind the story, the why of everything is also a difficult subject and while I understood the why of this subject working out being told like this, I still think a slightly more objective style wouldn't be bad, especially if only here and there.

I felt lost in some parts and while it didn't take me  long to finish, I had the feeling I wasn't rally processing everything. I think there were too many random idea in the middle of all the more objective thoughts.

In the end, despite the promise of new beginnings and new attempts on happiness, I can't help thinking nothing will ever be the same. How could it be after such damaging elements in the wife's relationship towards all the aspects of her life? Can someone try again with the same things already knowing it went wrong once?
My grade reflects my overall enjoyment and the fact hope is there but not the trust of before.
Grade: 4/10

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