Saturday, January 10, 2015

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill


This book included on the New York Times Review's 10 Best Books of 2014, which is why I decided to read it. Beyond that, I knew nothing about it before I started reading.

This novel is constructed very deliberately to correspond with what is happening in the story. It is the story of a woman and her husband. At the beginning of the novel, we see the events unfold from the perspective of the woman (who remains nameless throughout). Partway through, the perspective shifts so that the reader is looking in from the outside at "the wife" and "the husband." Still later, it shifts back to the perspective of the woman.

This is the story of a marriage and the woman's experience with motherhood. I found it difficult to sympathize much with the woman except during portions of her description of early motherhood. She seems so cold, so disconnected from the people around her, that she doesn't seem quite human. The story progresses, and eventually the marriage begins to fall apart, which is when the perspective shifts and allows us to look in from the outside. I expected the wife to leave during this portion, to set out on her own and go back to what she was before the husband and the daughter came along. But that is not how it ends. I was surprised. And I felt that the ending gave the entire book more depth and emotion where I felt it was lacking earlier.

Overall, I thought this book was an interesting read, but not something that I particularly enjoyed. Even though I did not enjoy it, I can still appreciate the skill that went in to writing such a well-constructed piece that seems like it is not well-constructed at first. There was also a fair amount of adult language and a little bit of sexual content, which might scare away some readers.

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