Book Review: The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn (Translated by Rosie Hedger)

Publisher:  Orenda Books

Publication date:  1st September 2016 (Paperback)


the-bird-tribunalAn eerie vibe grumbles throughout The Bird Tribunal and its creeping uncertainty has a surreal allure that I simply can’t explain.

The rolling prose is uninterrupted by speech marks creating disturbingly magical scenes of curt dialogue, so all of your senses are amplified waiting for the baffling relationship between a recent fugitive from life and an emotionally remote stickler for routine to thaw.

Sigurd Bagge’s isolated cottage feels like the coldest place on earth at times, and not just because of the weather. Still, Allis Hagtorn is attracted to the hypnotic bleakness as it allows her to disappear and leave her messy affairs behind. All she had to do to earn this privilege was to apply to Bagge’s advert for someone to carry out various household tasks and tend to the garden while his wife was away.

His wife hadn’t been home for some time judging by the state of the garden which Allis has to tackle with a scythe. He must be desperate too as Allis has very little horticultural experience. Applying strict attention to detail at all times as instructed by her employer she finds the lonely, backbreaking chores oddly gratifying and Allis’s self-imposed banishment will serve as punishment and character eraser all in one. This may be precisely what she craves, but considering she’s a presenter on TV it’s clear she has something she wishes to hide, or forget.

As Allis settles into restless oblivion she discovers life can be unpredictable behind  the cottage’s white picket fence, as Bagge may change his regimental routine to include unscheduled conversation or invite her to sit at the table to eat with him at a moment’s notice. The only constant is an indefinable foreboding until an intriguing metamorphosis is complete for the both of them.

I’m always mightily impressed when an author can effortlessly create arresting drama and suspense when most of the activity occurs in one central location – so much freedom surrounds the oppressive stage and yet the imposing rock face, an army of trees, and exactly one hundred steps leading to a wooden jetty leading out to the mysterious water provide a peculiar spiritual imprisonment. Oh, how easily the days are shattered by the occasional visit to a malevolent shop keeper who needs to pay more attention to restocking the shelves than sharing her random venomous thoughts with Allis. Still, this distracts the inexperienced housekeeper’s mind from fantasies she toys with involving her elusive employer which could be enough to drive anyone to despair…

The Bird Tribunal is heaving with a detached dreamlike quality that edges under your skin and lingers there causing time to stand absolutely still. My only wish would be that there was some way I could unread the pages so I could have the pleasure of devouring them all over again.

Rating:  5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

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.

Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.



(Courtesy of Publisher’s press release)

Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is an author and columnist. She made her literary debut with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjoldisiplin), 2014. In these works Ravatn shows her unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), 2013, is a strange and captivating story about shame, guilt and atonement. Ravatn received The cultural radio P2’s listener’s prize for this novel, a popular and important prize in Norway, in addition to The Youth’s Critic’s Prize. The Bird Tribunal was also made into a successful play, which premièred in Oslo in 2015.



14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn (Translated by Rosie Hedger)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn (Translated by Rosie Hedger) | picardykatt's Blog

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