A pithy novel by Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation gives a distant emotional insight into the life of the unnamed protagonist, “the wife” who goes through a whirlwind of feelings during the different phases of her adulthood dealing with her professional life, motherhood and the obstacles in marriage.
The book starts with a tidbit of information and the author generously provides these factoids during the entire course of the book. Some of these tiny pieces were fun and some that barely made sense to me as to why it was in the book. 😉 I liked the bit where the author talks about how the Buddhists believe we have 121 states of consciousness of which only 3 include “misery or suffering”. We, apparently, spend most of our time flipping between these three states. For me, this was food for thought. So very often we are unhappy about the state of affairs of our lives such as how we look, our jobs, our past and our present. We’re unhappy about the things we do not have and do not consider the things we do. It’s time to embrace what we have and what is in our control and just be content. Forget about what you don’t have, focus on what you do! As hard as it is, try it for a day! It feels soooo good! 🙂 Life has a lot to offer, we just need to open our eyes and see all the good things we have!
On the personal front, “the wife” shows feelings of insecurity and loneliness when she couldn’t eat alone in a restaurant. This is something I can completely relate too. There are a great many things I can do by myself but eating alone in a public place is something I dread doing. I see the author display feelings of loneliness and as her husband puts it, she has a “morbid imagination”, often fearing the worst. She is constantly pulled by negativity which makes me wonder how an earnest, happy-go-lucky guy like her husband was inclined to marry her considering their clashing personalities. The book progresses to show how she deals with motherhood, the pains of infidelity in a marriage and how for the sake of their daughter, they decide to make the choices they do.
As a teacher and a writer, “the wife” goes through a series of emotions that ranges from her wanting to be an “art monster” who is encapsulated in her work that nothing else matters, to just being plain submissive about her ghost writing a book about a space program with the difficult “almost astronaut”. Professionally, she seems confused about what she’s supposed to do and where she wants to be. I believe she was not content with her professional life.
The thing that I really liked about this book was how she quoted varied authors such as Keats, Kafka, Hesiod, Simone Weil and many more to depict her array of emotions in certain situations. The quotes were beautifully incorporated to show the readers what she was going through. There were some portions of the book that did not appeal to me. It seemed like the author jumped from narrating her story to someone who was viewing the story as a third person and then narrating. This incoherence sometimes even managed to boggle me. It felt like she was flipping between these two versions and there were places where I had to read a portion twice to ensure there was nothing I missed because it seemed a wee bit haphazard. This reminded me of my English teacher in fourth grade telling us how we should be careful about such flips while writing a story. 😉
Although well written, this book did not elicit any real emotions in me. It did not transport me to her world and make me want to sympathize for the lemons life threw at her. I’d give it a 3/5 for the factoids the book presents as well as the wonderful quotes the author used to bring forth her situations to the readers. All in all, this book didn’t do much for me.
Until next time, much love!
P.S: For all you boys out there, a piece of advice from the book: “Advice from Hesiod: Choose from among the girl who live near you and check every detail, so that your bride is not a neighborhood joke. Nothing is better for a man than a good wife, and no horror matches a bad one.”
P.P.S: For those curious about the title, “Dept. of Speculation” is a P.O box that her husband and her used, to write to each other about the various aspects of their life.