The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn was one of the most acclaimed crime fiction released of last year. Every critic, blogger, and crime fiction fan that I knew and followed on Twitter seemed to be reading this book, so I kindly requested a review copy to Orenda Books and I got it. It has taken me more than a year to get to read this jewel, but it was completely worth it.
The Bird Tribunal was the winner of the English Pen Award and its English translation comes ten years after its debut in Norway. Exquisitely translated by Rosie Hedger, this Nordic Noir hit is the perfect fall and winter reading for seasonal readers. The novel follows Allis, the main character, as she leaves her life behind to go take voluntary exile in a remote house with an unknown man. There, she is expected to take care of household chores and the garden while the man’s wife is away. However, as Allis moves around the house she starts to wonder whether the story she has been told is true.
Ravatn’s novel is haunting and a sense of having something off prevails in each scene. As we learn about Allis’ journey, she is forced to face her past, her mistakes, and the decisions that have led her to her current living arrangement. Her employer Signurd is a mysterious man who expects Allis to fulfill the role of house servant and gardener with silent obedience. As time goes by, Allis’ questions start to bother him, and this is the part of the novel that more resembles traditional crime fiction. However, I would say that The Bird Tribunal is more a psychological thriller in which a woman is haunted by another woman’s story. In this sense, I thought of The Bird Tribunal as a Nordic retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic tale of lies and domesticity, Rebecca. There are even some themes and elements common to both novels so as not to be a coincidence.
Everyone who told me The Bird Tribunal is a great novel was right. It is a haunting tale of desperation and the need to escape from our modern, hectic lives. It is also a reminder of the traditional gender roles and prejudices that sill haunt even the evolved Nordic societies. A hyptnotic reading that at 185 pages can easily be read in one sitting.