Dept. of Speculation

Jenny Offill

Published: 5 March 2015
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781847088741


They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same: Dept. of Speculation.

They used to be young, brave, and giddy with hopes for their future. They got married, had a child, and skated through all the small calamities of family life. But then, slowly, quietly something changes. As the years rush by, fears creep in and doubts accumulate until finally their life as they know it cracks apart and they find themselves forced to reassess what they have lost, what is left, and what they want now.

Written with the dazzling lucidity of poetry, Dept. of Speculation navigates the jagged edges of a modern marriage to tell a story that is darkly funny, surprising and wise.

About the author

Image of Jenny Offill

JENNY OFFILL is the author of Last Things (Bloomsbury, 1999) which was chosen as notable or best book of the year by the Guardian, the New York Times, the Village Voice, and was a finalist for the LA Times First Fiction Prize. She teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University, and is on the faculty at Brooklyn College and Queens University of Charlotte. Her second novel, Dept. of Speculation, was published by Granta Books in 2014. More about the author


‘[A] delectable and generous book: the novel of a marriage, written with elegance and wisdom and learning in bittersweet paragraphs’ Michael Hofmann 'Books of the Year'



‘[A] fascinating examination of the complexity of the female writer's post-childbirth experience of work as well as an astute, unsentimental portrayal of a foundering marriage’ Eimear McBride ‘Books of the Year’

‘[A] gorgeous, crystalline look at marriage, parenthood and writer's block that is so intimate, multiple readers (myself included) have had to keep reminding themselves that it wasn't written for them personally. Each carefully sculpted paragraph glints with insight and verve and wit’ Michael Hingston 'Best books of 2014'

‘[A] sublime little novel which I have already read a half-dozen times. Offill has a journalist's eye for the funny and weird... I have laughed over her best, funniest jokes even when they are no longer new to me. Reading [this book] is like finding that the stars are still visible in the biggest, brightest city, if we remember to look for them.’ Alyssa Rosenberg

‘[It] is the sort of book which, if you went through it with a pencil, underlining quotable lines, would end up being entirely underlined. I finished it in one sitting then went straight back to the beginning, wondering why other writers don't write like this... Magnificent [and] very funny’ Eilis O’Hanlon

Dept. of Speculation is a shattered novel that stabs and sparkles at the same time. It is the kind of book that you will be quoting over and over to friends who don't quite understand, until they give in and read it, too’ John Self

Dept. of Speculation is a shattered novel that stabs and sparkles at the same time. It is the kind of book that you will be quoting over and over to friends who don't quite understand, until they give in and read it, too’ John Self

Dept. of Speculation is gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways’ Sam Lipsyte, author

‘A beguilingly original novel made up of snatched moments and brief anecdotes... an exploded portrait of parenthood, creative identity and a marriage in crisis; wistful, sad and very funny’ Justine Jordan ‘Fiction book of the year’

‘A formal experiment that never seems forced or precious, it's a small marvel of economy and wit’ Lidija Haas 'Books of the Year'

‘A heartbreaking and exceptional book by a writer who doesn't settle for less... Sad, funny, philosophical, at once deeply poetic and deeply engaging, this is a brilliant, soulful elegy to the hardships and joys of married life’ Lydia Millet, author

‘A novel that... glitters with different emotional colors... It's often extremely funny and often painful... its depth and intensity make a stealthy purchase on the reader’ James Wood

‘A short, intense, poetic look at modern life, marriage and motherhood... Painful, questing, wise and funny... One to watch’

‘A tiny gem of a read... A delicate yet harmonious examination of love, beautifully written and engaging... Funny, sad and clever, the best book I've read in a long time’

‘A triumph on a small scale but in a major key’

‘An absolute stonker: it's a brilliant, brilliant book. Rich and rewarding and beautiful and heartbreaking... I fear it may ruin my reading for the rest of the year. It's extraordinary’

‘An amazing book... I almost missed a flight because I was tearing up’ Karen Russell, author

‘An elliptical, deeply intelligent meditation on parental and romantic love’ Stuart Evers ‘Books of the Year’

‘Aphoristic, dazzling and inventive, Dept. of Speculation has more jokes in it than any other book I read this year, but doesn't sacrifice resonance. Its approach - discrete paragraphs with no straightforward narrative flow - makes it sound a challenge, but purest pleasure is what I remember about it’ John Self ‘Book of the year’

‘Arresting... I cried both times I read it’

‘Brilliant... oddly invigorating, like a strong martini’ Claire Allfree

‘By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Offill lays bare the quiet madness of love, and the result is a profound and affecting read’ Louise O’Neill ‘Book of the Year’

‘Deft, brilliant and brave’ Sara Baume ‘Book of the year’

‘Dense with intelligence and life... Offill is incisive on the pleasures, terrors and frustrations of parenthood... [She] reveals depth and beauty in small, mundane things’ David Wolf

‘Extraordinary... Depressing? Far from it. Heartbreaking, yes; angry; but also very funny’ Harriett Gilbert 'Books of the Year'

‘Fifteen years ago, Offill made an auspicious debut with Last Things. Dept. of Speculation is her second. It is a book so radiant, so sparkling with sunlight and sorrow, that it almost makes a person gasp’

‘Funny and absorbing, an effortless-seeming downhill ride that picks up astonishing narrative speed as it goes’

‘I enjoyed [this] dark and spiky story of marital breakdown’ David Nicholls 'Books of the Year'

‘I have read and re-read Dept. of Speculation. It manages to reinvent the whole medium of the novel. And that's certainly not something you see every day. Ingenious, moving and refreshing’ Maggie O’Farrell 'Books of the Year'

‘I read just recently Dept. of Speculation, which I thought was fantastic. I loved it. It was very sad and beautiful and very unique. You know when you read a book and the author just has a voice you haven't heard before? It's like that. I hadn't heard that voice before’ David Duchovny

‘I steer readers towards Offill's breath-of-fresh-air Dept. of SpeculationSinead Gleeson ‘Book of the year’

‘In this fast-paced, fractured text [...] brief first-person paragraphs, aphorisms and quotations built in tension... As these diary-like entries build, so, too, does the claustrophobia that domesticity can bring... Such observed moments of boredom, joy and terror are the triumph of this novel, spilling the panic, pain and confusion or marriage and motherhood onto the page’ Beth Jones

‘In this slim, beautiful work, the short paragraphs read as a series of carefully crafted vignettes, linked yet strong enough to stand alone... It is about life, unvarnished, yet every bit of it made profound by Offill's glorious prose’ Isabel Berwick

‘It was my favourite book of last year and I keep returning to it. Compelling [and] heartbreaking... This is writing at its inventory, original best and I can't wait to see what Offill will do next’ Maggie O’Farrell

‘It's funny, sad and beautifully observed’

‘Jenny Offill has such a specific way of writing, and her words touch something very deep in me’ actress Clémence Poésy

‘Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I've read before. If I tell you that it's funny, and moving, and true; that it's as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897, will you please simply believe me, and read it?’ Michael Cunningham

‘Motherhood, geeky facts and a sprinkling of great thoughts create a riveting addition to female abandonment literature... this jewel of a book [is] a novel as funny, honest and beguiling as any I have read’

‘Observed moments of boredom, joy and terror are the triumph of this novel, spilling panic, pain and confusion of marriage and motherhood on to the page.... Brilliant’ Beth Jones

‘Offill has successfully met the challenge she seems to have given herself: write only what needs to be written, and nothing more... Absorbing, highly readable, intriguing, beautifully written, sly and often profound’

‘Offill is completely brilliant on the raw impotence of a mother's love... not to mention the mundane brutality of marital betrayal... Beautifully devastating, Dept. of Speculation is a worthy inclusion on this year's Folio prize shortlist’ Lucy Scholes ‘Paperback of the Week’

‘Offill writes with intuitive understanding... This carefully carpentered novel [...] builds into a genuinely moving story of love lost and perhaps, provisionally, recovered’ Michiko Kakutani

‘Offill's slender and cannily paced novel, her second, assembles fragments, observations, meditations and different points of view to chart the course of a troubled marriage. Wry and devastating in equal measure, the novel is a cracked mirror that throws light in every direction - on music and literature; science and philosophy; marriage and motherhood and infidelity; and especially love and the grueling rigors of domestic life. Part elegy and part primal scream, it's a profound and unexpectedly buoyant performance’ 10 Best Books of the Year

‘Offill's book delicately examines the minutiae of a modern marriage. With so much conveyed in so few words, it's simply brilliant’ ‘Book of the year’

‘Offill's writing is exquisitely honed and vibrant’

‘Original and accessible... It's a triumph of compression and compassion’ Book of the Year

‘Original... a story [with] strong emotional impact’

‘Popping prose and touching vignettes of marriage and motherhood fill [this book]... Offill has equal parts cleverness and erudition, but it's her language and eye for detail that make this a must-read’

‘Rich [and] satisfying... Offill's novel is a life raft: read it for its unsentimental scoop on love, the breaking of something good, and the possibility of patching the cracks and pulling through’

‘Singular... 10/10’ A.M. Homes, author

‘So beautifully written that it begs multiple reads... [It] doesn't just resign itself to the disappointment of failed dreams that crop up in middle age. Instead, endurance to the end of a crisis generates wisdom, hope and, perhaps, even art... This is soul-bearing fiction at its best’

‘Startling and memorable... [This] is a novel that looks to writers like Rilke, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf for inspiration as to what novel writing can be-fluid, observational, rawly emotional at times... there is as much wisdom to be found in its pithy riddles and maxims as in a thousand-page epic’

‘Stunning... It's almost impossible to reinvent the novel as a form these days but [this] does just that... As soon as I finished it, I turned it over and started again’ Maggie O’Farrell, author

‘The best novel I read this year... I keep finding excuses to quote the opening lines’ Joe Dunthorne 'Books of the Year'

‘The narrator's bone-dry wit punctures any hint of self-pity... Perfectly conjures the scattered thoughts of a creative, disorganised mind’

‘The pleasure of the story lies in the poetry of Jenny Offill's words... Exquisite and sublime’

‘The writing is clever, the pacing is fast... Poetic in style and philosophical in substance’

‘There are sentences in good novels that make you swoon with just how perfect they are at saying something true. This novel is made up almost entirely of sentences like that. This is the work of a master writer’ Readers’ 10 Best Books of the Year

‘This delicious sliver of a book does what only the best epistolary novels can: it forces the heart and mind into direct contact, one lush, lovely line at a time. I've found not only a new beloved author in Offill but also a witty new friend in the wife.’ Taiye Selasi

‘This is a novel of snapshots; about love, work, parenthood and more, that builds to a coherent and satisfying whole. I loved the day-to-day observations: so recognisable, grounded and true and yet the next paragraph along always surprised me... You'll get to the end and then start all over again’ Alex Hourston

‘Very funny, very sad’ Tim Martin 'Books of the Year'

‘With exceptional originality, intensity and sweetness [...] Dept. of Speculation is a shattered novel that stabs and sparkles at the same time. It is the kind of book that you will be quoting over and over to friends who don't quite understand, until they give in and read it too’ John Self

‘Written with such clarity and poetry... at times almost unbearably moving. And yet it has some intensely funny and witty moments too’ Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

‘Wry, funny and full of truth’ Thomas Morris

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