The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn (Translated by Rosie Hedger) (Orenda Books)

Another Orenda Book, another wonderful blog tour, which I am delighted to be a part of.

My relationship with Nordic Noir has been limited, to say the least. It’s not a genre that I tend to stray into very often, but Orenda Books has a particular talent for finding some wonderful books from this genre. The Bird Tribunal fits into the Orenda collection absolutely perfectly.

The Bird Tribunal is the strange story of Allis, a woman who is running away from her life in the city to become a housekeeper, of sorts, to Sigurd Bagge, a brooding, yet handsome man, whose wife is away for an indeterminable amount of time. An unusual premise from the start, as the mystery behind these two characters unfolds, the reader is treated to a wonderfully eerie psychological thriller. As Allis and Sigurd become more familiar, their respective secrets threaten to cause them considerable damage.

Agne Ravatn skillfully builds up the tension, by presenting the reader with an obvious sense that there is much more to these two characters than meets the eye, but without many dramatic courses of action. The reader knows that there is something very wrong and there is definite sense of trepidation throughout but the reader is never given enough to pinpoint exactly what is going on, just plenty of narrative for the reader to generate their own suppositions about what these two characters are all about.

The writing style helps to build the tension, with predominantly short chapters, giving a sense of abruptness to the narrative. It was a good job it was a short book because I could not stop reading and read it in one sitting one Friday evening. Every chapter felt like the characters were on the edge of a precipice and that the next chapter could be the one where something unthinkable would happen. Rosie Hedger, the translator for this novel, has done a brilliant job of replicating the tension that I’m sure was felt for readers who have read it in it’s true language.

There is some beautiful imagery used to describe the secluded home of Bagge, creating it’s own ominous atmosphere as a backdrop the this suspenseful narrative. The theme of birds is used throughout, and I defy anyone not to be sufficiently stunned by the chapter which gives the novel its title. The chapters of any significant action are few and far between but what makes this book so hauntingly beautiful is the simple happenings that are laden with suggestions of wrongdoing or potential danger lurking within, and occasional bursts of action which shock and surprise the reader.

I found this book so clever and engaging from the beginning to the end. The characters are both damaged yet strangely alluring and the reader never quite knows what is truth, as secrets are explored throughout. The reader never quite knows who to trust and the suggestions of what might have happened to these two lost souls to find themselves in the situation they are in keeps the reader completely invested to the very end. I did think the ending was a little abrupt and quite strange initially but in retrospect, it befits the novel perfectly. I was surprised at just how gripped this book had me. The lack of direct action absolutely defines the brilliance of this novel, as the reader is left wondering just what is going on with these two characters. Without a doubt, the ending will leave the reader reeling and feeling thoroughly satisfied, once they have had a little time to absorb it. The sign of a fantastic novel.