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Dept. of Speculation

3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  19,736 Ratings  ·  3,303 Reviews
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 t
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by Knopf
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Lara To me, and this is very much a quick reaction as well having only just finished reading it less than 10 minutes ago, but I think that the narration…moreTo me, and this is very much a quick reaction as well having only just finished reading it less than 10 minutes ago, but I think that the narration changes from first to third person at the point where she can't think of the situation as happening to her - it feels more like she is telling someone else's story than her own - and returns to the first person when she becomes more comfortable with the way that the situation has played out its course and has come to terms with what has happened better.(less)
Lizzie I loved this book. I borrowed it from the public library, but will buy it when I want to read it again. I loved Offill's style, the raw story, the…moreI loved this book. I borrowed it from the public library, but will buy it when I want to read it again. I loved Offill's style, the raw story, the distance with unnamed characters... I haven't felt so confident recommending a fictional novel I've read to date. (less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 22, 2013 Cameron rated it it was amazing
I underlined basically the entire novel.
Michael May
Dec 17, 2013 Michael May rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed

I read basically the entire novel. [1]

I tried to read it in a single sitting, but my wife kept yelling at me. [2]

I kept getting lost in the index. [3]

It's pithy. Very pithy. Maybe too damn pithy. [4]

It's a novel about a writer who wants to write a novel. [5]

It is very much about how it feels to have bedbugs. [6]

It's as compact and mysterious as a charred heel bone. [7]

It's as if Roz Chast slowly lost her sense of humor. [8]

If your average book is a sandwich, this is a panini maker. [9]


Emma Sea
6 stars.

I'm doing my inarticulate book-clutching thing.
If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.

John Berryman once wrote ‘let all flowers wither like a party.’ Nothing lasts, even the things we love most and nurture and care for must pass, but this is not cause for sadness but merely a reason to look into each moment and let ourselves feel the emotion coursing through them. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, writer of the marvelous children’s book (and staple of my daughter’s bedtime routine) Spark
Feb 04, 2015 Eve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2015
Indulging in my love of audio books has become more challenging since I quit my job, and no longer have a two and a half hour commute to get lost in a dreamy book. I've taken to having a special ME day once a week. The ritual revolves around my complicated and needy hair. The process of pre-shampooing, washing, deep conditioning, detangling, and finally braiding my hair into tiny segments occupies about 3-4 hours sometimes. I used to put it off until I absolutely had a knotted mess on my hands. ...more
Jan 04, 2015 christa rated it it was amazing
True confession: I will probably never press a copy of Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” into anyone’s hot little hands. It doesn’t matter anyway. The thing landed on, like, every Best Of 2014 list in the universe, probably even half-assedly scribbled onto fast food napkins. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just love this book, I fucking loved it. I felt passionate and heart-beaty about it. I touched words on pages and sighed like they were images in a yearbook or whatever. I turned my copy in ...more
Jan 06, 2014 Greg rated it liked it
“She thinks before she acts. Or more properly she thinks instead of acts. A character flaw not a virtue.”

Dept. Of Speculation is a short novel of a marriage. It's told in 46 chapters composed of short paragraphs and almost aphoristic lines and quotes in 160 compact pages. The narrator, the Wife, goes from being a young woman who considers being an Art Monster, a person who lives solely for the creation of their art, to a wife and a mother. It's set mostly in Brooklyn, but that shouldn't be held
Apr 24, 2014 Tim added it
When I first pulled a copy of Renata Adler's Pitch Dark off the dollar remainder shelves at the Strand sometime in the early 90s, I was intrigued, mystified. ¿Que es esto? I was slaloming between the poles of philosophy and literature at the time and trying to get them to merge in some elegant way or at least not crash into a tree. I was grabbed there on 12th Street by how she alluded to Wittgenstein and Nabokov back-to-back, insisting that they belonged together, not to mention Scheherazade and ...more
Oct 13, 2015 ·Karen· rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone who is sick of hearing about "Elena Ferrante"

There are blowsy baroque behemoths that spill the entire contents of the fridge onto your reading table (and let you do the cooking, and the clearing up afterwards too sometimes), and then there are the delicate offerings, the distilled essence from the alembic, an extract that carries, within a tiny drop, sweetness, tartness, acidity, all at once. Potent. Searing. Jewel-like droplets that set the mouth ablaze and the mind reeling.

This is sensational.

Offill dispenses with all the conventional tr
Feb 06, 2014 Melanie rated it liked it
My rating oscillates between 3 and 4 stars.
Thin slices of married life as viewed through a microscope, agitated cells of a wife's emotional life swirling on the page. A mix of memories and inner thoughts, striking moments and philosophical quotes, the whole should have risen as a symphony yet it didn't quite do that in the end for me. The book felt a little bit rushed and disjointed and coming apart at the seams.
Jenny Offill jumped ahead through the years a little abruptly at times and I often
Sep 20, 2014 Stephen rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
The subject of this book is the same as Elena Ferrante's The Days of Abandonment - the husband strays - yet the writing couldn't have been handled more differently.

To write like Ferrante you need a grasp of literature.
To write like Offill you need an American education and access to the internet.

Ferrante wears her education lightly - there are little, if any references to great writers.
Offill doesn't let you forget who she's in touch with.

Offill talks a lot about art.
Ferrante asks you to judge
Jul 07, 2015 LeeAnne rated it it was amazing

This short story reminds me of the first big hill on a wooden roller coaster. You know how the train jolts as it starts to move? Then you hear that ominous,“click-click-clack... click-click -clack” as the chain slowly pulls the cars up the steep hill. The suspense builds. Half way through this book, be prepared for a hard, fast, drop, straight down. The story accelerates until your stomach flies up into your throat. Before you know it, it is all over and you're left stunned and dazed.

The main c
Barry Pierce
Very nice, subtle novel. The prose is clear, stripped-back and easy to follow, it's very incidental and smooth. I don't know, reading this novel feels like that moment when you slip into a hot bath and suddenly everything is alright. The words swash around you with their calming violence, constantly bobbling and trickling along with their nonchalant rhythm. This is a wonderful piece. I'm saddend that more people haven't read this. I truly recommend it.
Paul Bryant
Sep 26, 2015 Paul Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
There are so many novels which are really memoirs but are given to us as novels because memoirs are like “oh, what makes you think your life is so interesting I might want to read about it?” and novels are “yay! A new novel!”

I will bet one thousand of my British pounds

that Jenny Offill really did have a bug infestation in her apartment and really did have a daughter who broke both her wrists. (Novels I read recently which are really also memoirs are : A Question of Upbringing, The Wallcreeper, T
Mar 16, 2014 Carol rated it did not like it

The plot depiction is disjointed and resembles the ramblings of a bi-polar patient off his/her meds. Typically it sounds like the ramblings of a person in couples' therapy when only one partner shows up. I would like to talk about the redeeming graces of this novelette, but I could find none, It was like picking up someone's private daily journal -- and finding that it's really only meaningful to the person writing it. Unfortunately, this material just did not engage me. (The text that explains
I found myself gasping at the sheer beauty and conciseness of Offill's sentences. This book can be devoured in two hours, or you can languish in it over many sittings (or both). It's about love and loneliness and grief and joy and fidelity and beauty and depression and mania and motherhood and writing. The shifting points of view were subtle yet profound, and, despite the darkness and sadness of the story, when I closed the book, I was left more alert and attentive, more alive. Highly recommende ...more
Tyler Goodson
Apr 27, 2015 Tyler Goodson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, book-club, six-stars
This novel is some kind of magic trick. I don't know how else to explain how this envelope of a book, like a genie's lamp, contains so much story, truth, heartbreak, and wisdom. It left as big an impression as a tome, and in 160 odd pages that is something special.
Ben Loory
Mar 05, 2015 Ben Loory rated it liked it
the writing is excellent, but the story (marriage/baby/infidelity/unpleasantness) just makes me wanna open myself with a sword
Aug 18, 2015 Teresa rated it really liked it
Recommended to Teresa by: Cathrine
A couple of friends had recommended this book to me and then ·Karen·'s review stating its contradistinction to Elena Ferrante's The Days of Abandonment sent me, intrigued, to immediately request it from the library. With very similar stories, the writing couldn't be more different. I'm not always a fan of minimalist writing and in the beginning I didn't think I was going to care for it here. But then not too far along, something clicked and I 'got' it. There's a major difference to the stories t ...more
Aug 15, 2014 Lee rated it liked it
There's a tricky point of view thing in this in which early on the husband is addressed as "you" and then, when husband and wife experience marital difficulties, the intimacy of that direct address is lost (he's called "he") until the very end, midway through the final page (it's not really a spoiler), when the husband is addressed as "you" again. And that's exactly the sort of thing that maybe kept me from giving this four stars -- although it superficially presents a "real" reality it does so ...more
Glenn Sumi
May 03, 2016 Glenn Sumi rated it really liked it
An unnamed Brooklyn writer and teacher meets a man, has a child with him and then discovers he’s cheating on her.

Sounds familiar, right? What makes this slim novel so memorable is the way the story unfolds in a series of vignettes that can be anything from a quote from a poem to an odd historical fact to haiku-like observations about life. Reading the book takes work. Images recur, characters known by their titles (“the philosopher,” “the almost astronaut”) come and go, and we’re left to connect
Sep 07, 2015 Cher rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned-dnf
1 star - I really hated it.

DNF'd at 10% (a whopping 15 minutes of reading, maybe). Turns out it is a collection of random gibberish. Here are two excerpts that speak for themselves:

To live in a city is to be forever flinching. 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.
Blue jays spend every Friday with the devil, the old lady at the park told me.
“You need to get o
4.5! I want to review this book for a number of reasons, partly because it's so small and slight that I fear readers will ignore it. But, like Thomas Paine's Common Sense, its resemblance to a modest pamphlet belies the size of its punch.

This book is an excellent character study and an example of what greatness can be achieved when an author trusts her reader and thus avoids the sin of overwriting.

These days, many movies seem longer and sloppier and less craftily edited to me. Likewise, it seem
May 11, 2015 jo rated it it was amazing
so i'm going to give you a bit of back story, k?

i was reading Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, except i wasn't really reading it because i was listening to it in audiobook before going to sleep. and then the book got disturbing, so i decided to take a break and listen to Dept. of Speculation instead.

you understand, i listen to audiobooks with the light off, while (hopefully) going to sleep. since (if i'm lucky, or unlucky, depending on the book) i get into sleeping mode within half an hour,
Ilenia Zodiaco
Un romanzo per frammenti dallo stile audace che ricorda un po' la Didion, un po' la Paley. I pensieri di una donna dalla testa alveare che ronzano ininterrottamente. Il titolo originale è Dept of Speculation, ed è infatti la speculazione (poco hegeliana) su un amore assediato dalle cimici, la pantomima di un matrimonio pericolante in scena nel "piccolo teatro dei sentimenti feriti". Una mistura efficace tra nozionismo, citazioni e essenziale quotidianità. Una lettura sperimentale, nebulosa, a tr ...more
Joachim Stoop
Feb 27, 2015 Joachim Stoop rated it really liked it
This is another proof that 'timing' (as in moment/period of reading) is everything! I read this book some months ago and this was my review at the time: "I'm really sorry for this but: blah, blah, bah.'
Because of all the raving reviews and a conversation with another booklover, I discovered that maybe I disliked it 'cuz I read it just after reading too much of meta-fiction at the time: Renata Adler, Ben Lerner, ...
I was craving for a story, for something compelling. Please, just write a fucking
El alquimista del tedio .
Ciertos libros me irritan. Este es uno de ellos.

La autora va mezclando citas ajenas (Horacio, Weil, Elliot, Rilke, Dickinson, Keats, Zweig, Wittgenstein, Singer...), al tiempo que nos narra la relación con su pareja (y los problemas que surgen con el paso del tiempo) y el crecimiento de su hija y no falta tampoco el yoga, el maestro zen, la cosmología, las mascotas, el tedio, la balsámica huida hacia parajes poco masificados...

Como esto de la pareja y los hijos afecta a buena parte de la poblac
Sep 27, 2015 Cosimo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
La cosa preferita

“Ma la cosa incredibile, insopportabile forse, è che l'ordine naturale delle cose vuole che quella luce si esaurisca. A volte rimane un lampo nei ventenni, un barlume qua e là nei trentenni, ma poi, quasi sempre, gli occhi tornano al buio”.

Il libro di Jenny Offils è originale, ironico ed elegante; una scrittura ricercata e intensa sia per forma espressiva che nei contenuti narrativi, che si sostiene su una trama letteraria e intertestuale fitta e brillante. Racconta essenzialmen
Jan 27, 2015 Abby rated it it was amazing
This small novel was on many lists of the best of 2014 and for good reason. It is a remarkable book, deceptively slight but with surprising depths of emotional intensity. Composed of fragmentary bits and pieces, it structurally resembles Renata Adler's seminal "Speedboat" but that novel's young writer lives in a big world -- her travels, the people she meets and her comments on a broad range of topics present a brilliant kaleidoscopic picture of the times. In comparison, "Dept. of Speculation" s ...more
Marcello S
Una insegnante/scrittrice, un marito e una figlia.
I loro problemi e il loro cercare un modo per affrontarli.

A raccontare questo libro in due righe lo farei più o meno così.
In realtà più che la trama qui conta lo stile, quasi al limite tra prosa e poesia e dove gli spazi vuoti contano (quasi) quanto quelli pieni.
Un libro pretenzioso, che o cambia le cose o niente.

I momenti buoni ci sono. Le citazioni giuste e le frasi spacca-cuore pure. Si potrebbe sottolineare 1/4 di libro da quante ce ne sono.
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Jenny Offill is an American author born in Massachusetts. Her first novel Last Things was published in 1999 was a New York Times Notable book and a finalist for the L.A Times First Book Award.

She is also the co-editor with Elissa Schappell of two anthologies of essays and the author of several children's books She teaches in the MFA programs at Brooklyn College, Columbia University and Queens Univ
More about Jenny Offill...

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“But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.” 47 likes
“If I had to sum up what he did to me, I’d say it was this: he made me sing along to all the bad songs on the radio. Both when he loved me and when he didn't.” 47 likes
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