Scenes from a Marriage: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Sayantan Ghosh
Sayantan GhoshDec 01, 2023 | 17:53

Scenes from a Marriage: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. (Photo: Amazon)

In fragmented, episodic chapters, Jenny Offill seamlessly delves into the stream of consciousness of a modern marriage and parenthood. Book critic John Self wrote in his 2014 review: “A book this sad shouldn't be so much fun to read.” I remember my mid-20s heart being instantly sold.

Nearly a decade has passed, but even now some of the passages in this novel read like pure works of comic genius. Case in point: “And that phrase—‘sleeping like a baby.’ Some blonde said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear.”


This story has been told innumerable times – from the tongue-tied honeymoon phase of falling in love that results in marriage, to the nervous excitement of the birth of a first child, to the acerbic discovery and aftermath of the husband’s affair. Yet, Offill’s Dept. of Speculation manages to find a whole new voice for it. “The invention of the ship is also the invention of the shipwreck,” she informs us about this oft-repeated rites of passage.

The ample white space before and after each incisive and brief paragraph gives you the feeling as if you’re reading the X feed of someone with a verified account. The only difference is that these make sense. Offill’s nameless protagonist is a writer who wanted to be “an art monster” – “Women almost never become art monsters,” Dept. of Speculation is here to remind us. A husband and a daughter happen to her, her second book never does.

The novel was shortlisted for the Folio Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, plus was a Book of the Year in The Guardian, Observer, and New York Times. And still it isn’t as widely read or discussed today as some of the other books depicting failing relationships and marriages. That certainly needs to change.


“It is impossible to feel calm in cities, because we so rarely hear birdsong there… To live in a city is to be forever flinching,” Offill writes. Her book ekes out an identical, ancient restlessness.

Last updated: December 01, 2023 | 17:53
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