Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 29, 2018

Dept of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Yes, this was another title picked up on impulse at the Springvale Library…

(I should explain: my good friend Rosie was singing the praises of the Greater Dandenong network of libraries, and now that libraries so often host author talks and other good things, it seemed like a good idea to join up, especially since it was on the way home from her place. Well, you can’t go in and join a library and not borrow stuff, can you?)

Anyway, this was a book that everyone seemed to have read, but it was one of those that I didn’t want enough to buy or even reserve at the library. But there it was, and less than 200 pages long, and I read it overnight because the insomniac goblins are back.

My hesitations were well-founded, and now I wonder if maybe I should have taken more notice of Kim’s review at Reading Matters.  As she says:

I couldn’t help thinking, is that it? Why is everyone raving about this?

The book has been so hyped that I hardly need to outline the plot: it’s a New York marriage that goes wrong.  Love sours with the arrival of a testy baby and the interruption to the career that made her an interesting and witty person.  (At least, that’s what the first person narration says she was). Then there’s unhappiness, for the predictable reason.

If I hadn’t read Catherine Chidgey’s so much more captivating The Beat of the Pendulum (see my review) I might have enjoyed the ‘found novel’ approach more.  Offill uses scraps of thoughts, dialogue, events, and fragments of poetry to depict the trajectory of this marriage.  It has occasional pretensions but nothing too irritating.  But the narrator’s preoccupation with self does convey the clichéd ‘Californian’ narcissism that we used to joke about last century when we thought narcissism was a passing phase.  As Kim says, the tone is ‘whiney’.

Well, to be fair, I probably would have whined if I had bed bugs in the house too…

Author: Jenny Offill
Title: Dept. of Speculation
Publisher: Granta 2013
ISBN: 9781847088734
Source: Springvale Library



  1. I just passed over this (again) the other day.


    • Funny how some books keep making themselves felt even when we are not sure about them…


      • Amazon just put it on a special again.


        • And some books can’t get any publicity at all, it seems so unfair…


  2. Well, I’m one who did really enjoy the book for various reasons. As I ended my blog I said, “Wonderful book – excellent in concept as well as execution. Perfect structure and style. I might have to read this again” lol

    It’s short –


    • Ah, I’m glad I have a positive review to balance mine! Thank you:)


  3. I’ve heard good things about this one, too; interesting to hear you weren’t convinced by it.


    • It’s a New Zealand publication so it might be hard to get hold of, but seriously, if you read The Beat of the Pendulum, you will find it a much more rich and complex book…


  4. I think I decided this was not for me after Kim’s review – and I’m still thinking that now! :))


  5. I just checked back on my review… it included a ‘did I miss something?’ 😂

    I do remember the bed bugs bit though. A friend of mine caught bed bugs while travelling and took them home (to the US). It was a NIGHTMARE getting rid of them and went on for months. You can’t even mention bed bugs to her now without her breaking out in a cold sweat!

    LH: Kate’s review is here”


    • It took me a while to work out what they were!


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