Visitation is a novel by Jenny Erpenbeck, written in the style of a selection of short stories. It follows the people who ‘journey’ through a house in Germany, following several characters over a period of seven decades. The book focuses on the issues of twentieth century Germany: such as the Berlin Wall and Nazi movements. Each character is introduced briefly, meaning we have very little time to get to know them. However, Erpenbeck writes her characters in a way that you can be attached and feel empathy for despite this brief meeting. Dorris is one such character as we follow her final hours at a camp. The use of smells and thoughts really help build the emotion of the scene: ‘for two minutes she inhales the smell of pine trees that she knows so well, but she cannot see the pine trees themselves because of the high fence.’
This book is quite heavy going. The sentence structure is fairly complicated, making for long sentences that take a certain detective quality. The mix-match of characters and the loose swaps between them also make for a tough read. The book gains an essence of looking through a window and not really understanding what you’ve seen until the different images combine. Erpenbeck conceals information from the reader and gently strings them together to reveal the greater picture in this way. This is a good technique, adding mystery and encouraging the reader to want to understand the characters.
Alongside the quick succession of characters, the tone of writing and the style also changes. Styles including perspective bound third person narration in one ‘chapter’ or short story changes to a passage with no character focus that gives a detailed description of a specific detail. For example the second chapter goes into deep detail about women on their wedding days and the traditional things that must happen. This change of focus can sometimes be refreshing, but often simply confusing. The pace of the book is constantly sped up and slowed down due to the swaps. However, this effect does mean the book is very detailed, which adds to its charm.