Source: Review copy
Publication: 17th September 2020 from Orenda Books
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review
When the tenant of a house that university professor Nina owns with her doctor husband goes missing after an uncomfortable visit, Nina starts her own investigation … with deeply disturbing results. The long-awaited new thriller from the bestselling author of The Bird Tribunal
It’s funny the impression you can get from what you read about books before you pick them up to read for the first time. In my head I had the thought that this might be a bit heavy going…all Nordic gloom and slow going literary theory, but in fact it is a proper page turner with a splash of real wit.
From the outset we find characters who don’t endear themselves. Nina is a Professor of Literature at the local University. She’s really hacked off because her childhood home that she and her long standing husband, Mads have lived in since they were married is the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the Council – the same Council for which Mads, a doctor, is an elected politician, so he has had to stand back and take no part in the decision. Thus Nina has been unable to fight the order and must watch the home she loves being demolished – and in double quick time.
When she teaches she finds her students devoid of intellectual curiosity and she wonders why she’s bothering at all to teach them. Nina and Mads have one child, Ingeborg, herself the mother of a small child, and she is a woman completely devoid of empathy.
Mads owns a house not far away, inherited from an aunt, and when Ingeborg announces that her house has silverfish and she needs to move straight away, she insists on going with Nina to view the house that Mads owns, without even giving its tenant any warning of their visit. Mari Nilsen is a young single mother and is very much taken aback when the entitled Ingeborg stipulates that she must see the house and then demands to know how quickly she can move out. Nina is also taken aback and aghast at her daughter’s behaviour.
So when she hears not long after that Mari has gone missing and has left her son with his grandparents, Nina can’t help but worry that Ingeborg’s abrasive behaviour might have been in some way responsible.
As time passes and there’s no sign of Mari, Nina, who has by now realised that she knows a little of Mari’s history, feels that she has to inquire further into her life and her disappearance.
Ravatn writes reasonably short chapters and her prose is taut and precise. Against the backdrop of a Norwegian winter she tells her story with care and precision. As Nina slowly pieces together pieces of Mari’s life she uses leaps of judgement and makes some sweeping deductions based on her literary skills and psychological principles to reach a conclusion that has consequences she could not have foreseen and which have a profound impact on her extended family. Just like Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle, every time Nina opens another door, the atmosphere gets that little bit more chilling.
I adored this story, with its use of fables and opera to create allegories around Mari’s story and what she has experienced. Agnes Ravatn’s clever use of these stories builds up quite an oppressive, tension laden atmosphere which keeps the reader on edge as Nina gets closer to uncovering a devastating truth.
She will soon find that everything she believes in, everyone she thought she knew, is not quite who they appear to be. This is a family whose lives are full of untold secrets and Nina’s investigations will leave them exposed and vulnerable.
Verdict: A taut, beautifully crafted story written in immaculate prose which teases apart layers of family secrets. The harsh Norwegian winter adds a special atmospheric bite to an already tense and chilling story. Skilfully translated by Rosie Hedger, The Seven Doors is a beautifully crafted, chilling psychological thriller that completely riveted me.
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.