About eighteen months ago I was in the US. It was a dream break full of sunshine, ice-cream, galleries, long walks, cocktails and incredible bookshops. Unable to bring the entire contents of these stores home in my suitcase, I kept a list of interesting titles, staff recommendations and unfamiliar authors. I am still working my way through this list, but am continually being rewarded by some fantastic novels. The latest of these, is Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation.
Visitation is a short but incredibly affecting novel. A plot of land is subdivided, a house built and the stories of its owners, occupiers, the land and the country told through it. The thread that ties the occupants together is The Gardener. His story is the most simplistic, yet the most beautiful. The repetition that brings beauty and order to the land comes through repetition of language. Fruit must be harvested, fences maintained, firewood chopped and stored. It’s easy to forget amongst the chaos of war, upheaval and invasion that everyday people are continuing on with everyday tasks; that while many things may change, rituals stay the same.
In many ways, Visitation is about the idea of home. Can we be transient and still tied down? Can we own without ownership? Are we controlled by our surroundings or those who surround us? A haunting forest becomes the backdrop to questions that are not easily answered, but most certainly stay with the reader.
Erpenbeck’s language is subtle, stripped back and often poetic. But this does not make it a difficult novel to read; rather, it allows us to be drawn into the place and connect with the land, often more intimately than even those living on the property.
Visitation inspires making use of the seasons, a reminder to connect with your surroundings and your own connections to home – through people, place, sounds, food and rituals – and consider just how much of that you actually own.
Recently I’ve been opting for a very simple breakfast of boiled eggs and toast cut into soldiers. After eating this on a recent trip to the excellent East Brunswick café Pope Joan, I’ve been inspired to keep cooking it at home. It’s a wonderful day to start the day: simple, quick and like being a big kid. The best part though is enjoying it in your very own home, being able to take your time (rather than rushing off to school) and drinking a leisurely coffee alongside.