In the final accounting a novel is only a series of stated facts that aren't true. In Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill takes this truth to its formal extreme. This short novel is written in a spare prose that often reads like notebook jottings, abstract poetry or clippings from a textbook. Yet it's precisely this pared-back form that lends her unnamed protagonist such a vibrant, funny, fragmented inner life. Dept. of Speculation is a searingly truthful anatomisation of the growth and decay of a marriage; of the strange and shifting nature of a mother's love for her child.
It's also about writing; or the impossibility of it. The protagonist is riding the wash of a successful literary debut but has failed to progress with her second. She takes a job ghost-writing the memoir of a successful businessman and failed astronaut, and some of the book's most powerful prose-poetry – and its strongest images of separation and loss – come from her research into the history of space travel.
"There is a red dwarf star called Ross 248. In 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within 1.7 light years of it, still far enough away that it will seem like no more than a dot of light. Astronomers say that if you looked at it through the porthole of Voyager 2, it would seem to slowly brighten over the millennia, then slowly dim for many more."