The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

The Bird Tribunal Agnes RavatnTranslated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger, ‘The Bird Tribunal’ by Agnes Ravatn tells the story of Allis Hagtorn, a former TV presenter who goes into self-imposed exile from her home, job and partner after she is involved in a scandal at work. She finds a new job as a housekeeper and gardener for a man called Sigurd Bagge in the middle of nowhere despite having no real experience in that type of role. Before arriving at his isolated house by the Norwegian fjords, she expects to be caring for an elderly man but discovers on arrival that Sigurd is in his forties and is not much older than her, simply requiring some extra help in the house and garden while his wife is away. Sigurd rarely talks to Allis and has violent mood swings but she finds herself being increasingly drawn to him.

The potential return of Sigurd’s wife Nor, the barbed comments from the local shopkeeper, dark elements of Norse mythology and the stark landscape of the Norwegian fjords all contribute towards the unsettling atmosphere. Allis’s behaviour becomes more and more bizarre and obsessive as she tries to ascertain whether Sigurd finds her attractive or repulsive. She constantly tries to find ways to get his attention often coming across as much younger than she actually is and seems to find the transition from being in the public eye to living in a remote location very difficult despite the exile being her choice.

Drawing comparisons with ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier, the narrative tension is brilliantly controlled underneath the mundane domesticity of Allis and Sigurd’s day-to-day lives until the dramatic climax at the very end. Their relationship becomes something of a power struggle where it is never quite clear who has the upper hand or who is manipulating who. The ambiguous character development is highly effective with Ravatn leaving the reader to form their own interpretation of events and Hedger shows real skill in her translation by ensuring that this uneasy tone is replicated in the English version of the text.

‘The Bird Tribunal’ is an intensely chilling read which packs a real punch in less than 200 pages. It has been billed as a psychological suspense thriller but I think it is very original take on what can sometimes be a cliché-ridden genre. ‘The Bird Tribunal’ also has strong literary credentials having already won a PEN Translates award and I hope it is a contender for next year’s Man Booker International Prize. It is Ravatn’s first book to be translated into English and I hope more of her work appears soon.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

  1. Wow – sounds terrific. Thanks for the review. I plan to look for it.

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  2. This sounds like one for the book tokens due to be presented in a few days time. I saw your other post as well, I am not a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, so might give that a miss unless there is unexpected generosity shown by my family!!!!

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  3. This sounds reveting will definitely be adding it to my tbr

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  4. Susie | Novel Visits

    I really enjoyed reading your review of The Bird Tribunal. I liked this book, too. Loved the character development, but thought the ending was a little too expected.

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  5. Great review! I just received a copy of this book from the publisher. I’ve been reading about it everywhere and the reviews are all very positive.

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  6. I am trying SOOO hard to cull my TBR list but this one just had to be put on it. It sounds amazing, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book translated from Norwegian.

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  7. I hadn’t heard of this yet but it sounds amazing!

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  8. This book sounds great! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it next year. Having recently read a poorly translated book, I am happy to hear that this one is well done!

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  9. Pingback: My Books of the Year 2016 | A Little Blog of Books

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