University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her difficult daughter are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition. When her daughter decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman living there disappears, leaving her son behind, the day after Nina and her daughter 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…
Having been completely bowled over by Agnes Ravatn’s previous book The Bird Tribunal I was anticipating another story layered with psychological suspense and dramatic tension. The Seven Doors achieves precisely that and Ravatn does not disappoint.
Although the book involves a seemingly simple premise for a plot, what Ravatn layers into it, makes this a far from linear tale. Just as The Bird Tribunal encapsulated the psychological suspense of Patricia Highsmith and was powered by a literary allusion throughout, so the author draws on a similar idea here. Consequently, aside from her main character Nina finding herself embroiled and unduly fascinated by the disappearance of her and her husband’s tenant Mari, herself a mysterious and mercurial figure, Ravatn threads into this mystery a number of themes and digressions drawing on psychological schools of thought, folklore, literature and music. I do concede that I was much more drawn to this side of the book, as I unfortunately guessed the perpetrator of Mari’s disappearance from quite early on, but was completely fascinated by the the references to the legend of Bluebeard (which spawns the title of the book) of which I knew nothing, and the other facets of the book mentioned previously with a focus on humanities and the psychological. There is nothing better than finishing a book having discovered something new, particularly when it is so skilfully woven into the plot without feeling forced or contrived.
Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was Ravatn’s characterisation, particularly of the women, as the male characters, aside from Mari’s estranged husband seemed a little more functional rather than rounded. Nina is a fascinating character, being older, and perhaps with a more heightened awareness of time passing by, with her home on the point of demolition, and the machinations of moving on, and moving out. It seems that in this period of change and uncertainty, her transformation into an aged Nancy Drew could not have come at a better time for her, and perhaps, on a more human level, proves to her that she still has some worth outside of being a lecturer, a wife and a mother. Speaking of which, I loved Ingeborg her daughter whose lack of tact and diplomacy is an absolute joy to behold. She is resolute, and like a dog with a bone, will pester, cajole and annoy to get what she wants, with little thought for others, leading to some of the lighter moments within the book.
Overall, I enjoyed the linear quality of the main storyline of The Seven Doors, which gave the plot the opportunity to go off on other tangents linked to Nina’s particular field of academic expertise, with music, folklore and literature also being used as tropes within the book. Fluidly translated by Rosie Hedger once again, this is a taut and precise psychological thriller, deceptive in its simplicity but with some interesting diversions, that leads to a satisfying read overall. Recommended.
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
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