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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Bird Tribunal

Agnes Ravatn

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To purchase The Bird Tribunal

Title: The Bird Tribunal
Author: Agnes Ravatn
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Bird Tribunal - US
The Bird Tribunal - UK
The Bird Tribunal - Canada
Das Vogeltribunal - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Fugletribunalet
  • Translated by Rosie Hedger

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Our Assessment:

B : decent low-simmer suspense and tension, but ultimately a bit thin

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 28/11/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "An unrelenting atmosphere of doom fails to prepare readers for the surprising resolution that engulfs this flawed pair." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Bird Tribunal is narrated by Aliss Hagtorn, who tries to escape everything and everyone she's known after a sex scandal that the entire country seems to be aware of. She finds what seems to be an almost perfect place to flee to, answering an ad to work for Sigurd Bagge, way out in the Norwegian boondocks, by a fjord. He needs help in his garden -- while his wife is away, he explains.
       Bagge doesn't seem to recognize her or be aware of her notoriety, but then his household isn't one in which TV or newspapers figure prominently (much less the internet ...). He's a withdrawn, quiet type, making clear what he wants -- including to be largely left undisturbed. Aliss is expected to cook for him, but not eat with him, for example, and he explains: "You won't see much of me, and I'd like as few interruptions as possible". He has a workroom he apparently retreats to, and seems to spend most of his time there, leaving Aliss more or less to her own devices (and poor gardening skills).
       Bagge practically never goes out -- he doesn't have a job anywhere, it seems -- and there's no word about his wife, or when she might be expected back. Aliss, too, remains almost entirely on the property, with only the occasional foray, by bicycle, to a local shop, to pick up groceries. The shopkeeper -- essentially Aliss' only other human contact -- eventually realizes who she is, to Aliss' annoyance, but for the most part her complete withdrawal from society and the mess she made is a success.
       What exactly Aliss did is only eventually revealed, but it's almost as if it had taken place in another world and time. She and Bagge live in almost complete isolation, with barely any connection to society at large; the setting and (lack of) technology practically suggest another era. Aliss finds: "Living here was like ceasing to exist" -- but that's something they both seem to want, or need, for the time being.
       Bagge is also carrying some personal baggage. A lot, in fact. It takes a few months for him even to begin to open up, but things really begin to change when he returns after mysteriously staying away for a few days. Aliss doesn't immediately learn what he was up to -- indeed, it's only the shopkeeper's comments that begin to clue her in -- but she finally asks him about it, and learns some of his darker secrets and begins to gain more insight into his damaged soul.
       There's some suspense to The Bird Tribunal, as readers wonder what the two characters' secrets are, and how they will play out. There's a slight sense of menace, from both the locale and Bagge, but it blends in with a general gloom and darkness -- with Bagge the picture of the brooding, taciturn Scandinavian. Occasionally the menace looms larger, but the prevalent feeling is simply one of unease -- compounded by the feeling of uncertainty Ravatn leaves readers in for so long. There are some nice dark moments -- Bagge telling Aliss that she doesn't have to worry about the annoying shopkeeper any longer: "She won't be troubling you anymore" -- and some rather bright foreboding -- a dream of Bagge's; a bird-attack; Aliss' mis-placement of a ton of mousetraps (which, again, Bagge takes care of, off-scene) -- but for the most part The Bird Tribunal simmers on a low flame.
       It's fine, but feels a bit forced and constructed. Aliss tells Bagge: "You do too many strange things, I said. It frightens me", which sort of sums things up: not quite enough is left here to speak for itself, the characters not explored or revealed fully enough, not soon enough, either by their actions or their confessions. Aliss, in particular, and the drastic step of her essentially complete withdrawal don't quite convince.
       The relationship between the two, as Aliss stays and stays, develops in an interesting way, but also moves rather predictably to its climax. It's reasonably satisfying, as a whole, but ultimately still feels a bit thin, the final shocks almost tired, inevitable-seeming ones, Ravatn going through obligatory author-motions with this too carefully plotted story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 March 2018

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The Bird Tribunal: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn was born in 1983.

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© 2018 the complete review

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