Visitation – Jenny Erpenbeck

The BookDepository

 Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Shortlisted for 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Five words from the blurb: house, inhabitants, country, ghosts, chilling

The Visitation is a short, but beautifully written book focusing on the occupants of a house in East Germany. The narrative moves forwards and backwards through time, showing snapshots of different residents throughout the 20th century.

The house, on the shore of a lake, is the scene of many shocking events. The rise of the Nazis, the disappearance of the Jews, and Russian rule are all covered; finishing with the destruction of the Berlin wall.

It sounded like the perfect book for me, but unfortunately the writing was so cold and clinical that I felt distanced from the events.

For two minutes she can feel the sand beneath her shoes along with a few pieces of flint and pebbles made of quartz or granite; then she takes off her shoes forever and goes to stand on the board to be shot.

There was no emotion in the text and I found this lack of sentimentality meant that I had no connection to the characters. This, along with the confusing jumps in time, meant that there was no motivation to turn the page. Reading became a chore. I frequently found myself having to re-read sections in order to work out who was narrating, or which time period was being covered.

I know a lot of people will love this book for the fantastic writing, but I’m afraid I need more than that – especially when I’ve read about the subject matter so many times before.

Recommended to those who appreciate good writing and don’t mind working to understand what is happening.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

 ….a stunning and brilliant piece of fiction. Lizzy’s Literary Life

The abruptness of of the prose makes some of the descriptions of objects and places quite haunting. My Book Year

there is a lot of joy to be gained in piecing it together and seeing the place enhance the feel of its people. The Mookse and the Gripes


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14 Comments

  1. Graham says:

    Shame you didn’t get on with Visitation. For me it was the lack of the emotion and sentimentality in the writing that made it more powerful.
    Thanks for the link. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Graham, I can see why a lot of people love this book, but I tend to need more connection with the characters and I didn’t like that distant feeling. Glad you enjoyed it though. :-)

  2. Beth F says:

    I love the premise and I liked the quote you shared. Maybe I’d ahve a better time with the book than you did.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, You would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. I hope you like it if you decide to give it a try.

  3. pburt says:

    My mother had the same reaction as you – so much so that she didn’t want to finish the book. I enjoyed it a lot more that she did. Different books for different folks.

    1. Jackie says:

      pburt, I considered giving up on the book, but it is so short that I decided that I might as well make my way to the end. I’m glad you enjoyed it though. :-)

  4. I’m eagerly awaiting this one, but I’m glad to hear some less glowing thoughts on it. I’m intrigued by how much ground is covered in such a short book. I’m trying to read more translated fiction too, and I’m eager to read about these events from a different perspective.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Yes. A lot of ground is covered in this short book. It is one of those books that takes a lot longer to read than you’d think from just looking at it. I look forward to seeing what you think of it.

      1. Graham says:

        I agree that it takes longer to read than you’d expect. It is such a slim book, but it is so dense you need to read it carefully.

  5. stujallen says:

    I loved this but like her other book I read it more what is behind the writing than what you read that matters ,I can see why you might dislike it a bit thou ,be reviewing shortly ,know it was rob favourite for IFFP ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Yes. Rob was raving about it when I met him in Edinburgh. I can see why you like it, but I don’t like the emotion to be hidden behind the words. I look forward to reading your review soon. :-)

  6. Andi says:

    I like connection as well, so I’m not sure this one would pan out for me either. Maybe a library try.

  7. Aths says:

    I just heard about this one a couple of weeks back and thought that it sounded really good. Sorry to hear that the writing is a bit detached – that’s something that’s been troubling me a lot lately!

  8. Kathleen says:

    I’d have to be in the mood to want to try so hard to figure out what was going on so not sure I would rush to read this one.

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