The Guests by Agnes Ravatn

Translated by Rosie Hedger

I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the Random Tours blogtour for this novel, which didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected, but was all the better for it. The Guests is a brilliant story of mindgames and psychological drama without any violence for a change.

Before I get to say a little about the plot, I’d like to talk briefly about the language, for this novel is written in Nyorsk. Before I looked it up, I was unaware that Norway has two official languages: Bokmål, used by around 85-90% of its population, and Nyorsk, used by the remainder, concentrated around Bergen. I gather it is more written than spoken, but it is taught in all schools to those who don’t have it as their primary language in Norway. In Rosie Hedger’s seamless translation, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t translated from the more common Norwegian language. Now to the story…

We begin with Karin and Kai’s arrival at Iris Vilden’s cabin for a week’s holiday, well a holiday for Karin, a working one for Kai, a joiner, who will build a new jetty. It’s on a remote archipelago, one of a well-spaced string of architect designed and built individual holiday homes.

The cabin wasn’t as showy and vulgar as I’d hoped it might be, in fact, it was tasteful and understated, constructed from greying wood, glass and natural stone.

… I’d been anticipating something a little more offensive and garish, easier to find fault with. There was nothing here for Kai and I to ridicule and mock, at least not at first glance, nothing we could exploit in order to strengthen our own bond, only a wealth of environmentally friendly materials and extreme privilege.

A week here, I thought to myself, and already I felt drained, a week!

So just four pages in and there’s an odd vibe with Karin, our narrator. A few pages later on, and we find out that Iris Vilden was her schoolyard frenemy, who’d gone on to become an actor. They’d bumped into Iris in a pub after going to a concert in Oslo. Karin had tried to hide, but she was spotted and, twenty-five years after they last saw each other, she was confronted with her nemesis and did small talk and swapping email addresses. She explains what Iris did to her and her father to Kai on the way home.

It was a surprise when Iris contacted Karin with a legal question, and the suggestion that Kai could sort out the jetty. Why did they say yes? The boys would go to their grandparents, giving Karin and Kai time on their own for a change, but also Karin is curious!

A couple of days into the week, and Karin goes off wandering along the rocky shore, reaching another cabin set back into the trees. A man is fishing, but says to her Private Property, repeating it annoyedly. Karin replies there is plenty of fish ‘Down by us,’ sort of implying cabin ownership. This little white lie will take the mindgames to the next level. When Kai and Karin are invited round to Per and Hilma’s cabin for supper, she finds herself expanding on her earlier exaggeration and making them believe that they are entrepreneurs… I squirmed!

It gets more and more complicated as the lies are compounded, and Per and Hilma are led on by the pair – or are they? I can’t possibly say any more.

The Guests is a delicious and refreshing concoction. It’s quirky and darkly funny, but exposes all the characters’ faults, from envy to arrogance. The increasing suspense made it a truly compulsive read and a different kind of psychological drama which I loved.

Source: Review copy – thank you. Orenda paperback original, 276 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.

5 thoughts on “The Guests by Agnes Ravatn

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Fantastic premise to have the protagonist meet up with a frenemy from school, and of course the ideal read for this Nordic-themed month! Your intro definitely drew me in, curious as to where it was leading.

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