The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn, translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger
Published by Orenda Books, 2017 (first published in 2013)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Following a scandal, historian and TV presenter Allis Hagtorn has abandoned her life and career in favour of voluntary exile. Responding to a job ad for a housekeeper and gardener at a remote house on an isolated fjord, her employer is not the frail old man she expected, but an elusive 44-year-old awaiting the return of his wife. As they fall into their own unconventional routine, a strange tension simmers between the two, with both eager to coax out the other’s true nature while guarding secrets of their own.
The strength of this novel is its atmosphere, with Ravatn able to imbue even the most seemingly mundane interactions with a sense of threat. Subtle literary allusions to the likes of Rebecca and Bluebeard also work well to heighten the feeling of impending menace. Combined with the cool sparsity of Nordic noir, the book has a singular tone that really draws you in.
That said, the taut build up is handled so well that the eventual “reveal” felt somewhat lacking in comparison to the horrors I’d been imagining. In that respect, it would be wrong to describe this as a conventional thriller. Instead, it reads far more like a psychological character study of two self-appointed misfits navigating a complicated relationship fuelled by shame and regret. With the dynamic between the two explored to pin-sharp precision, it is almost impossible to tell at times who truly holds the power, or what each hopes to gain from the other. It is this understated intellectual cat-and-mouse game that leaves the greatest lasting impression.
You can pick up a copy of The Bird Tribunal by clicking here.