AUTHOR: Agnes Ravatn
PUBLISHER: Orenda Books
PUBLICATION DATE: September 1, 2016
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TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough.
The Bird Tribunal is a book layered with intrigue and tension – a short but intense novel that lured me in from page one. Although the book is short, it packs a huge punch and the story that unfolds is a deeply unsettling one that had me mesmerised. The structure and pace of this novel is highly addictive, with short chapters that throw the reader into the strange, uncomfortable place that is the isolated home of Sigurd Bagge and his housekeeper Allis.
The story and its unease builds up slowly but satisfyingly. From page one, the book has a claustrophobic feel to it and the beautifully atmospheric writing deploys the strange characters and their burgeoning relationship in a chilling and disturbing manner. Both Allis and Sigurd are extremely odd characters. They are unusual people, difficult to really get to know but their strange traits and relationship are darkly compelling.
The tension in The Bird Tribunal is only maximised by the secrets the reader are aware Sigurd and Allis have. Though we don’t know what they are, there are clues along the way as well as the twisted anticipation to them being revealed. The intrigue in Sigurd’s character is his regular disappearances as well as the mystery of his wife, along with the reasons why he won’t let Allis into certain rooms in his house. For Allis, her character has arrived as Sigurd’s housekeeper in an unusual fashion – as how does one person transform from a TV presenter to housekeeper anyway? The answers are teased throughout but the suspenseful build-up forced me into quickly turning the pages so I could discover more – and fast.
Allis narrates this book and I loved that about it. She wasn’t the easiest character to believe in or trust and she did get herself into situations where I had little sympathy for her character. Because of this, and her narration, I became really engrossed in the story as I love books where you have no idea where the truth lies and how things are really going to turn out. The style of this book allows the reader to envisage several scenarios as to what is really taking place and being kept a secret, and the words that are being spoken or maybe just imagined. The writing style took me a bit of time to get used to – with dialogue throughout but no speech marks – but as I settled into the story I found this aspect to be fitting and all the more compelling.
With taut and haunting prose, and an extremely fascinating plot, The Bird Tribunal is an unforgettable little story with insufferable tension in the lead-up to a shocking end. The pace of the story picks up the further into the book you get and this makes it all the more enthralling, as does the complex, weird and often changeable characters of Sigurd and Allis. The translation is brilliantly done and the book never loses its mysterious feel. I really struggled to put the book down, and I am still thinking about it now it’s over.