Nominated by:

Waterford City & County Libraries, Ireland

Chicago Public Library, USA

The Seattle Public Library, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Granta Books, UK

Alfred A. Knopf, USA

Dept. of Speculation

Jenny Offill    

2016 Shortlist

Judges’ comments

Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is a novel about the breakdown of a marriage, told entirely in brief recollections of happiness and grief by an unnamed narrator. These shards and fragments somehow amount to a coherent picture both of a couple’s life and of the narrator’s inner life. The narrator reveals herself through anecdote and aphorism, tormented by her ambitions and responsibilities and above all by her determination to become what she calls an ‘art monster’: ‘Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things.’ Concerning itself almost entirely with mundane things, the book magnificently achieves what Offill’s narrator can only dream of. A small shattered masterpiece.

About the Book

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.

(from publisher)

About the Author

Jenny Offill is the author of Last Things 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. Dept. of Speculation is her second novel.

Librarians’ Comments

Offill’s narrative of a woman’s life, presented as a series of spare interlocking vignettes, is funny and acute. She writes in a spare, unconventional style, using a shifting narrative to expose her character’s ambivalence on falling in love and being an artist while also a wife and mother. Just like an x-ray, Offill lays everything bare. This novel is short enough to read in one sitting but good enough to want to begin again immediately.

Written in a series of vignettes, fragments, quotes and other inner thoughts, this subtle novel is told as a portrait of a marriage. The reader follows a young woman from her dating life to her early days of marriage on through to parenthood, with some bumps along the way. As “the wife” grapples with the experience of maternal love without the complete destruction of self that often ensues from it, the reader is left with a glimpse of the friction between domestic life and the self’s pursuit of artistic identity.

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