At just under 200 pages, The Bird Tribunal may be a short read but my goodness it’s a fascinating one! TV presenter Aliss Hagtorn has fled her job, her relationship and her town having been caught up in a scandal. She applies for a job to help Sigurd Bagge and is surprised to find he’s not an elderly gent as she expected but not that much older than herself. While his wife is away, he needs help with his garden and Aliss also has house-keeping type duties. The book follows the two as Aliss starts to settle in to her new position and routine and tries to understand her mysterious employer.
The author begins her book by setting the scene beautifully. The remoteness of Sigurd’s house is captured perfectly, with the surroundings described vividly. I could easily picture the Norwegian landscape with the old-fashioned wooden house surrounded by tall pine trees. It sounded an idyllic retreat for someone like Aliss who was looking for this kind of isolation. But after the initial focus on location, this story then changes to become very character driven. Aliss is the main narrator and we get a real insight into her thoughts and confused feelings towards her new employer. Sigurd is a very strange character, very guarded in his dealings with Aliss. There is something very unsettling about him and his demands of her seem to change almost daily. He is so cagey about his wife, not saying where she is or how long she will be away. It was at this point I started to get the feeling that there was more than a passing resemblance to Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.
Unusually, the story is written with no speech punctuation. I must admit I did find this rather challenging at the beginning but I did quickly get used to it. To be honest, I was so intrigued by the whole set up and wondering what was going on with the mysterious Sigurd that I actually stopped noticing. I was far too involved with the story and the claustrophobic relationship between him and Aliss. There was a definite sense of foreboding. Something was going to happen but I didn’t know what and couldn’t wait to find out! The atmosphere reminded me a lot of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca with Aliss, like the second Mrs De Winter, aware that something strange was going on but not really sure what it was. The tension and suspense builds up beautifully throughout the book and the final few pages really had me on the edge of my seat wondering what the climax would be.
The Bird Tribunal is an excellent, beautifully poetic novel, so well translated by Rosie Hedger that you could easily forget it was originally written in Norwegian. Agnes Ravatn is clearly a talented thriller writer and I loved this book.
My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of this book. The Bird Tribunal was published as an ebook in July with the paperback published on 1st September. You can order a copy online here: The Bird Tribunal
From the back of the book
Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape… 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.