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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Jenny Offill

Festival Blogger Benjamin Judge will never be best mates with Dept. of Speculation author Jenny Offill. But he’s okay with that. And he enjoyed the Folio-shortlisted author’s recent event at the Anthony Burgess Foundation…


I had a plan for the evening:

  1. Go see Jenny Offill.
  2. Shout “OMG I’M YOUR BIGGEST FAN” at the most opportune moment.
  3. Be BFFs with Jenny Offill, like, forever.

But things didn’t quite work out like that.

You really should carry a copy of Jenny Offill’s novel, Dept. Of Speculation, with you at all times. Then, if you are ever confronted by someone stupid enough to declare the death of the novel, you have something to hand that you can suggest they might like to read (or shove up their nose, depending on your mood). It is smart and funny and beautifully written, of course, but it also grasps what it means to be human in that very specific way that only a very fine novel can. If you haven’t read it, you should, and if you have, you are almost certainly nodding along with what I am saying (and also thinking, no, no, no Ben, I am going to be BFFs with Jenny Offill and you will have to settle for second BFF or whatever you are offered, sorry, that is just how it is going to be).

Part one of my plan, ‘Go see Jenny Offill’, played out perfectly. She read from Dept. Of Speculation and then talked with Kate Feld about the book, writing and life in general. Offill was generous and honest and funny and, above all, natural. In fact, she was so engaging, and I was so in awe of her brilliance, that I completely forgot to make any notes about what she actually said. This is a major failing on my part. I am not unaware of this. I can only apologise. Sorry.

What do I remember? I remember a discussion about motherhood and art monsters, about the light inside each of us that dims as we age, about the Folio Prize, about plotting and planning and the Pixies, about the success of Dept. Of Speculation and its fifteen year genesis, and about how poets can give better advice than novelists when it comes to rescuing failed novels. I remember a question about how the chapters of Dept. Of Speculation were arranged and how, like good poetry, they conclude before the end of a scene. I remember a very long queue to get books signed. I remember how every person in it walked away from it a little bit in love with Jenny Offill.

And, it was at this point that I realised being BFFs with Jenny Offill was going to be totally amazing and also, unfortunately, that I was never going to be BFFs with Jenny Offill. I wasn’t going to shout “OMG I’M YOUR BIGGEST FAN”, I was going to wait until the queue died down and then quietly and politely get my book signed by one of the world’s finest writers. There would be no downing tequilas at 2am in the kitchen of some random New York restaurant. No road trips across New England. Just the book with a really nice message in it and the memory of a great evening.

And that was just peachy. Sometimes one out of three is more than okay.



Between changing nappies and arguments about bedtime, Benjamin Judge writes stories. Sometimes they win awards. You can find him on twitter @benjaminjudge or on the big internet at benjaminjudge.com. He needs a new nappy. It isn’t his bedtime.