One of Norway’s most distinguished voices, Agnes Ravatn’s first novel to be published in the UK was The Bird Tribunal. It won an English PEN Translation Award, was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and the Petrona Award, and was adapted for a BBC Book at Bedtime. She returns now with a dark, powerful and deeply disturbing psychological thriller about family, secrets and dangerous curiosity…
University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her adult daughter Ingeborg are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition.
When Ingeborg decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman who rents it disappears, leaving behind her son, the day after Nina and Ingeborg pay her a visit.
With few clues, the police enquiry soon grinds to a halt, but Nina has an inexplicable sense of guilt. Unable to rest, she begins her own investigation, but as she pulls on the threads of the case, it seems her discoveries may have very grave consequences for her and her family.
The Seven Doors is translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger.
I’m rarely lost for words but this book at times left me speechless. It’s so different, with a writing style all of its own. I know it’s been translated into English but it keeps the feel of the original. One minute you are reading about the mundane everyday goings on in Nina’s life and the next she is discussing the workings of a depressed mind with Kaia and starting her own investigation into a missing woman. And while I did guess one of the outcomes about three quarters of the way through, I could not have guessed the final reveal. Slowly turning darker and more shocking, this book will reel you in and spit you out in a million pieces.
Nina and Mads have been married for years. We know that Nina is 61 and assume that Mads is of a similar age. Nina is a university professor. They have a daughter Ingeborg, who can be very abrupt and outspoken and their relationship is often strained. Ingeborg is married with one child – three year old Milja. Mads is a doctor at the hospital, as is his brother Jo who is married to psychologist Kaia, Nina’s best friend.
Nina and Mads have lived in the same house since they were married – in fact it’s Nina’s childhood home – but a compulsory purchase order on the house sees them having to move out quickly before the place is bulldozed to make way for a new venture. Ingeborg also wants to move because their house is infested with silverfish (pest control anyone??). Mads inherited a house nearby from his late Aunt and Ingeborg has decided she wants it, so she and her mother visit the tenant to give her notice. Ingeborg is very rude and Nina is embarrassed. Then a few days later the tenant – we now know her name is Mari Nilson – goes missing, leaving her young son Ask with her parents.
That’s the basis of the plot but the story is much more than just the mystery of a missing woman. It’s intricately woven and the writer gives us an insight into the lives of all the main characters plus Mari, her ex-husband Niklas Bull and Mari’s parents. There is such depth and tension and often no-one is who they seem.
The Seven Doors – the name of the book – refers to the folktale of Bluebeard’s Castle and other folk stories are also mentioned and referred to. This is very interesting as I have always been fascinated by folklore, especially where children are concerned, as I have never understood why it was thought acceptable to terrify three year olds into behaving by telling them stories in which small children are captured by witches or eaten by wolves. I guess the Catholic Church does a pretty good job too with visions of hell.
For me this was definitely a five star read as I love anything that veers from the norm, particularly when the sinister truth is buried so deep you don’t even realise it’s there.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours
About the Author
Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is a Norwegian author and columnist. She made her literary début with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007. Since then she has written three critically acclaimed and award-winning essay collections: Standing still (Stillstand), 2011, Popular Reading (Folkelesnad), 2011, and Operation self-discipline (Operasjon sjøldisiplin), 2014. In these works, Ravatn revealed a unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility. Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), was an international bestseller translated into fifteen languages, winning an English PEN Award, shortlisting for the Dublin Literary Award, a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick and a BBC Book at Bedtime. It was also made into a successful play, which premiered in Oslo in 2015. Agnes lives with her family in the Norwegian countryside.