Dept. of Speculations

One of my resolutions this year is to do more of the things I enjoy, which includes being a member of a book club.

And as I desperately need a structure, a schedule, suggestions and snacks from it, I thought it would be best to join an actual book club that holds a regular physical meeting.

The first book club meeting of the year was held on Valentine’s day and I moved mountains and oceans to make sure I could attend it.

I also had another problem: I haven’t finished any of the books I started this month (Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimita and The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen).

At the same time, I didn’t feel like rereading last month’s books as it felt like cheating.

So last Sunday I frantically googled* for short-yet-interesting novels. I downloaded more than ten samples onto my Kindle and ended up purchasing the one titled Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

*Retrospectively, all those hours I spent researching about short novel and going through all the samples could have been used to finish one of the book I was currently reading. Oh well..

Dept. Of Speculation shares a story of a married relationship, the falling apart of it; how it’s almost broken but maybe, is still salvageable.

In the beginning, it’s written in the first person perspective. The wife’s. About her life and thoughts.

Each chapter contains multiple short paragraphs which aren’t always connected to each other. Around half way into the story, the first person’s perspective changes to a third person, as if it’s too hard for her to continue telling her story, so the third-person narrator has to take over. The beauty is that at the very end of the book, the last chapter, the writing switches back to a first person perspective, as if to show that she has healed enough to go on and narrate her own life again.

Though this is about about heartbreak, moving on and the possibility of forgiveness, there are other things coloring the wife’s life; the interesting career choice, the tender love for the daughter and the new found love for yoga. There are also background characters such as her sister, an ex-boyfriend and a couple of friends.

It reads like a mix of a tweet and a diary with unnamed characters and changing seasons, mirroring a collection of poems, which is yet another reason why I thoroughly enjoy reading it.

These are my favorite quotes from the book which I quoted in the book club:

“What Rilke said: Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further.” 

“How had she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.”

 “The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.”

“The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out. A home has a perimeter. But sometimes our perimeter was breached by neighbors, by Girl Scouts, by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I never liked to hear the doorbell ring. None of the people I liked ever turned up that way.”

It was an easy read as I always gratified towards this type of writings, which usually can be found in Japanese lit. The ones that don’t see the need on detailing every single thing surrounding the story;  the ones who don’t really explain the layers behind a person’s character; the ones that start, continue or end with plenty of room for our own interpretations. A little surreal and a lotta ambiguous.

Dept. Of Speculations also reminds me of a personal blog I used to read more than a decade ago, which inspired me to start my own. The blogger wrote about love, heartbreaks and random observations which is very similar to the theme of the book.

This book also felt like an answer from the Universe to my plea for guidance to find my writing style. I, too, sometimes wish to only write a few lines of thoughts and share it to the world; also plastering emojis into my photographs. And that it’s okay to do so because maybe there is someone out there who connects with the way I write. Exactly like how I felt about this book.


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