Agnes Ravatn is a Norwegian journalist, essayist and short story writer. The prize-winning crime novel The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribunalet) is her second novel.
Allis has done something terrible. What it is we’ll only learn later in the book. We only now it’s something shameful and it made her leave her life and her husband behind. Since she was a public figure, many people know about it and she’s scared of being recognized in the streets. That’s why she applies for a job as a housekeeper and gardener for the summer in a remote house on a fjord. To her surprise, her employer, Sigur Bagge, isn’t elderly but a 44-year-old man. He says that he needs help while his wife is away.
Sigur’s age isn’t the only thing that surprises Allis. She’s also puzzled by the way he wants them to live together. Strictly apart. She’s to prepare his food but eat on her own, after he’s finished. She is not do disturb him or talk with him.
Allis isn’t used to so much isolation but at first she plays along. In a way, it’s even soothing. She’s too glad he doesn’t know her or her story and that his way of life allows her to stay hidden. As much as Sigur may want them to stay apart, it’s difficult when you share a house and they finally get to know each other anyway. Allis is glad but at the same time there are so many things that make her uneasy that she’s not sure the new situation is really a blessing.
This book is so eerie. It made me feel uncomfortable from the beginning. The last thing I would want, is to share an isolated house with a brooding, taciturn stranger. Not even the descriptions of the beautiful fjord made me ever forget what this would be like. And in Allis’ situation at that. She’s really done herself a huge disservice in doing what she did back home. Her life is shattered and the things she did has left her very vulnerable. While she hopes things can only get better, the reader senses from the beginning that the house on the fjord might not be a safe haven. There are too many sinister indications that something’s wrong, and that Sigur might be hiding a secret of his own.
Agnes Ravatn does a great job at creating an eerie atmosphere. I also liked how she uses foreshadowing and the way she infuses her story with dream segments and stories of Nordic mythology.
The Bird Tribunal is a claustrophobic story, dark and mysterious, and held me captivated until the end.
I discovered The Bird Tribunal on Raven Crime’s end of year list, which is a list I look forward to every year. As he focusses on crime, his list is dangerous. It always makes me buy books.