I am delighted to welcome you to my stop on Agnes Ravatn’s blog tour for The Bird Tribunal and share an extract from this utterly gripping and chilling thriller.
” 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.”
You can buy a copy of The Bird Tribunal here
Extract from The Bird Tribunal:
My pulse raced as I traipsed through the silent forest. The occasional screech of a bird, and, other than that, only naked, grey deciduous trees, spindly young saplings and the odd blue-green sprig of juniper in the muted April sunlight. Where the narrow path rounded a boulder, an overgrown alley of straight, white birch trees came into view, each with a knot of branches protruding from the top like the tangled beginnings of birds’ nests. At the end of the alley of trees was a faded-white picket fence with a gate. Beyond the gate was the house, a small, old-fashioned wooden villa with a traditional slate roof.
Silently I closed the gate behind me and walked towards the house, making my way up the few steps to the door. I knocked, but nobody opened; my heart sank. I placed my bag on the porch steps and walked back down them, then followed the stone slabs that formed a pathway around the house.
At the front of the property, the landscape opened up. Violet mountains with a scattering of snow on their peaks lay across the fjord.
Dense undergrowth surrounded the property on both sides.
He was standing at the bottom of the garden by a few slender trees, a long back in a dark-blue woollen jumper. He jumped when I called out to greet him, then turned around, lifted a hand and trudged in a pair of heavy boots across the yellow-grey ground towards me. I took a deep breath. The face and body of a man somewhere in his forties, a man who didn’t look as if he were in the slightest need of nursing. I disguised my surprise with a smile and took a few steps towards him. He was dark and stocky. He didn’t look me in the eye but instead stared straight past me as he offered me an outstretched hand.
Allis Hagtorn, I said, lightly squeezing his large hand. Nothing in his expression suggested that he recognised me. Perhaps he was just a good actor.
Where are your bags?
Around the back.
The garden behind him was a grey winter tragedy of dead shrubbery, sodden straw and tangled rose thickets. When spring arrived, as it soon would, the garden would become a jungle. He caught my worried expression.
Yes. Lots to be taken care of.
I smiled, nodded.
The garden is my wife’s domain. You can see why I need somebody to help out with it while she’s away.
I followed him around the house. He picked up my bags, one in each hand, then stepped into the hallway.
He showed me up to my room, marching up the old staircase. It was simply furnished with a narrow bed, a chest of drawers and a desk. It smelled clean. The bed had been made up with floral sheets.
He turned without replying, bowing his head and stepping out of the room, then nodded
towards my bathroom and walked down the stairs, without indicating what was through the other door on the landing.
I followed close behind him, out of the house and around the corner, across the garden and over to the small tool shed. The wooden door creaked as he opened it and pointed at the wall: rake, shovel, crowbar.
For the longer grass you’ll need the scythe, if you know how to use it.
I nodded, swallowing
You’ll find most of what you need in here. Garden shears and the like, he continued. It would be good if you could neaten up the hedge
Tell me if there’s anything else you need and I’ll see that you get the money to buy it.
He didn’t seem particularly bothered about making eye contact with me as he spoke. I was the help; it was important to establish a certain distance from the outset.
Were there many responses to your advertisement? I asked, the question slipping out.
He cast me a fleeting glance from under the dark hair that fell over his forehead.
Quite a few.
His arrogance seemed put on. But I kept my thoughts to myself: was his property now – he could do as he liked. We continued making our way around the house and down into the garden, past the berries and fruit trees by the dry stone wall. The air was crisp and bracing, infused with the scent of damp earth and dead grass. He straddled a low, wrought-iron gate and turned back to look at me.
Rusted shut, he said, maybe you can do something about it.
I stepped over the gate and followed him. Steep stone steps led from the corner of the garden down to the fjord. I counted the steps on my way down: one hundred exactly. We arrived at a small, stone jetty with a run-down boathouse and a boat landing to its right. The rock walls of the fjord formed a semicircle around us, shielding the jetty from view on both sides. It reminded me of where I had first learned to swim almost thirty years before, near my parents’ friends’ summer house on a family holiday.
It’s so beautiful out here.
I’m thinking about knocking down the boathouse one of these days, he said, facing away from me. The breeze from the fjord ruffled his hair.
Do you have a boat?
No, he replied, curtly. Well. There’s not much for you to be getting on with down here. But now you’ve seen it, in any case.
He turned around and started making his way back up the steps.
His bedroom was on the ground floor. He motioned towards the closed door, just past the kitchen and living room and presumably facing out onto the garden. He accessed his workroom through his bedroom, he told me.
I spend most of my time in there. You won’t see much of me, and I’d like as few interruptions as possible.
I gave one deliberate nod, as if to demonstrate that I grasped the significance of his instructions.
I don’t have a car, unfortunately, but there’s a bicycle with saddlebags. The shop is two kilometres north, just along the main road. I’d like breakfast at eight o’clock: two hard-boiled eggs, pickled herring, two slices of dark rye bread and black coffee, he quickly listed.
The weekends are essentially yours to do as you please, but if you’re around then you can serve breakfast an hour later than usual. At one o’clock I have a light lunch. Dinner is at six, followed by coffee and brandy.
After reeling off his requirements he disappeared into his workroom, and I was left in peace to acquaint myself with the kitchen. Most of the utensils were well used but still in good shape. I opened drawers and cupboard doors, trying to make as little noise as possible all the while. In the fridge I found the cod fillet that we were to share for dinner that evening.
The tablecloths lay folded in the bottom kitchen drawer, I picked one out and smoothed it over the kitchen table before setting two places as quietly as possible.
At six o’clock on the dot he emerged from his bedroom, pulled out a chair and took a seat at the head of the table. He waited. I placed the dish containing the fish in the middle of the table, then put the bowl of potatoes in front of him. I pulled out my chair and was about to sit down when he halted me with an abrupt wave.
No. You eat afterwards. He stared straight ahead, making no eye contact. My mistake. Perhaps I wasn’t clear about that fact.
I felt a lump form in my throat, picked up my plate and quickly moved it over to the kitchen worktop without uttering a word, a tall, miserable wretch, my head bowed.
I filled the sink with water and washed the saucepan and spoons as he ate. He sat straight-backed, eating without a sound, never once glancing up. Fumbling slightly, I set the coffee to brew, found the brandy in the glass cabinet behind him and, once he had put down his cutlery, cleared the table. I poured coffee in a cup and brandy in a delicate glass, then placed both on a tray and picked it up with shaking hands, clattering in his direction.
When he stood up afterwards, thanked me brusquely for the meal and returned to his workroom, I took my plate to the table and ate my own lukewarm portion, pouring the half-melted butter over the remaining potatoes. I finished the remainder of the washing up, wiped the table and worktop and headed up to my room. I unpacked all of my things and placed the clothes, socks and underwear in the chest of drawers, the books in a pile on the desk.
I made sure my mobile phone was switched off before putting it away inside the desk drawer. I wouldn’t be switching it on again any time soon, not unless there was an emergency. I sat there, perfectly still and silent, afraid to make a sound. I could hear nothing from the floor below my own. Eventually I made my way to the bathroom before turning in for the night.
For your chance to win a copy of this fantastic thriller all you have to do is comment on this post (the competition will close at midnight Thursday 6th October).
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for reviews, extracts and the chance to win more copies of The Bird Tribunal!
About the Author:
Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is a Norwegian author and columnist. She made her literary début
with the novel Week 53 in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and
award-winning essay collections: Standing, Popular Reading and Operation Self-discipline, in which she recounts her experience with social media addiction, and how she overcame it. The Bird Tribunal won the cultural radio P2’s listener’s prize for this novel, a popular and important prize in Norway, in addition to The Youth’s Critic’s Prize. The Bird Tribunal was also made into a successful play, which premièred in Oslo in 2015.