The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

Review published on November 27, 2016.

This is the second novel by prize-winning Norwegian writer Agnes Ravatn, and it certainly deserves the praise it’s received. The Bird Tribunal fascinates and creates unease in the reader right from the beginning.

It tells of the relationship between a young woman television presenter Allis Hagtorn and a 44 year old married man, Sigurd Bagge. Allis, fleeing her own marriage and career, has taken a job at Bagge’s remote house, ostensibly to keep the garden under control while Bagge’s wife is on an extended holiday. Soon, however, she is acting as a full-time housekeeper, and, as time goes on the two become obsessed with each other, although both have secrets which only slowly come to light.

Both characters are very well portrayed. This is particularly true of Bagge. a mercurial man with sudden, unexpected mood swings, and seeming from Allis’ point of view sometimes threatening. For the book is entirely written as Allis’ recollection of events This leads to one of the book’s main strengths, the wonderful descriptions from a city dweller of the remote fjord side and wooded area where Bagge lives. It’s a book where the location plays a large part in the plot as the deep forest and the remoteness of the area all add to Allis’ unease. A superb translation by Rosie Hedger helps add to the atmosphere.

Although I very much enjoyed this book and found it intriguing, the ending did not come as a great surprise. The pleasure in reading The Bird Tribunal for me came from looking back on it afterwards. There are so many clues to help the reader decide whether Allis really is a reliable narrator. Perhaps only the birds, omnipresent in the forest, know what really happened.

Sue Glynn 4/4

The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
Orenda Books 978-1-910633-35-9 pbk Sept 2016

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