Hello, people of the internet!
I mentioned in a previous post (this one, to be exact), that I was eager to read more translated books. So when I found this and discovered it was translated from its original language, Norwegian, I knew it was the exact kind of book I wanted to get my hands on. Not to mention that I also love reading books set in different countries. I particularly enjoy reading books set in Scandinavian countries as well.
With that in mind, surely The Bird Tribunal was perfect for me, right?
Title: The Bird Tribunal
Author: Agnes Ravatn
Translator: Rosie Hedger
Publication date: 9th January 2016
Publisher: Orenda Books
TWO PEOPLE. TWO SECRETS. AS THE PAST TIGHTENS ITS GRIP, THERE MAY BE NO ESCAPE…
TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her career to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated 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.
This is a difficult book for me to review, to be honest. Not that I disliked it any way, but then again I can’t say I loved it either. I felt there were some very strong elements in this book that really worked for the book’s advantage, however there were strange elements that I can’t get my head around or connect with.
Well, I’ll start with the plot. I have read books before where not a lot happens and it’s the characters that drive the plot forward. Here, it’s a weird case where it is completely character-driven, in one setting and there are only two characters, Allis Hagtorn and Sigurd Bagge, the reader gets to know (or should I say, should get to know, but I’ll discuss that more later). It really does add to the isolation of both Allis and Sigurd as well as the tension and obsession between them. It makes for an uneasy, tense read. It’s definitely psychological suspense, but I can’t say this kind of plot is for everyone. I, for one, do like this plot and can strongly say it’s the best feature in this book.
Now: for the most complicated bit in this review. You see, I couldn’t emotionally connect with either Allis or Sigurd, yet it works for the story! With other books, I often complain if I don’t get emotionally involved with characters, so much so that it can ruin the overall reading experience. Yet, with The Bird Tribunal, it works! Well, it works well, but not excellently. You see, both Allis and Sigurd are keeping secrets from one another, which leads to a lot of conversations with strange, uncomfortable dialogue. But not only are they keeping secrets from each other, but Allis, the first person narrator is also keeping secrets from the reader. Sure, she does tell us a few things, but she isn’t being open with us either. This way, it suggests that the isolation of both characters is not only within the book itself, but is stopping the reader connecting with them too. Of course, it would be nice to be emotionally invested and to get to know the characters more, but when it concerns The Bird Tribunal, it isn’t entirely a bad thing.
What I absolutely love about The Bird Tribunal is its setting. Through the translation, I was there in the fjord, the jetty and the forest with the characters. It made me want to visit the country and see the wonderful views for myself! I have never been there before in my life, yet The Bird Tribunal has managed to conjure up the image in my head. The story of the Nordic gods was also nice to read. I am interested in mythology in general, but I personally love Nordic mythology. To read Allis telling Sigurd the story of Balder was good character development for both characters (one of the few times I felt character development was being made) as well as interesting to me since it was the first time I heard that particular story. The Scandinavian setting and elements were by far my favourite bits about the book.
The only big problem with the book is the way it writes dialogue. Not that the dialogue itself was badly written, far from it in fact, but there are no speech marks to indicate that something is being spoken. This is the first book I’ve read where it’s written this way and it took me a while to get used to it. Also, there were times when it was too confusing; I had no idea who was talking to who or even if it was being said out loud or as a thought process. If you feel this may be too much of a problem, then I completely understand why.
I will give The Bird Tribunal 3 stars out of 5. It would have had more of an impact if I could connect with its characters, even if it does work for the story in a way. Despite that, I did like reading it as it is suspenseful with mysterious characters. If this sounds interesting to you and you have no problem with character-driven plots, then I would recommend this book.
Thank you for reading!