‘A young couple are entangled in an unrelenting spiral of lies when they pretend to be someone else …‘ – The Guests
[ About The Guests ]
It started with a lie…
Married couple Karin and Kai are looking for a pleasant escape from their busy lives, and reluctantly accept an offer to stay in a luxurious holiday home in the Norwegian fjords.
Instead of finding a relaxing retreat, however, their trip becomes a reminder of everything lacking in their own lives, and in a less-than-friendly meeting with their new neighbours, Karin tells a little white lie…
Against the backdrop of the glistening water and within the claustrophobic walls of the ultra-modern house, Karin´s insecurities blossom, and her lie grows ever bigger, entangling her and her husband in a nightmare spiral of deceits with absolutely no means of escape…
Simmering with suspense and dark humour, The Guests is a gripping psychological drama about envy and aspiration … and something more menacing, hiding just below that glittering surface…
[ My Review ]
The Guests by Agnes Ravatn published January 18th with Orenda Books. Excellently translated by Rosie Hedger, it is described as ‘exquisitely dark, sharply funny psychological drama’.
Meet Karin and Kai. Married with two kids and working hard, opportunities seldom arise for them to take some time off. When they are offered a break-away in a luxurious holiday home hidden on an archipelago in the Norwegian fjords, Kai is excited. He will have to do some work on a new jetty for the owners, during their stay, but he is perfectly fine with that arrangement. Karin, on the other hand, is very reticent.
The archipelago is home to the elite, the wealthy, ‘the well-turned-out, nut-brown couples’ who all drive ‘black electric SUVs’. Karin and Kai arrive in Kai’s bright orange work van and, immediately, Karin feels out of her depth. Karin is very self-conscious, not being cut from the same cloth as the regulars who have homes on the fjord. Karin works for the local council. She has a law degree under her belt but has always felt that she has never achieved her potential. Kai, on the other hand, is very laid back, seamlessly adapting to his surroundings and, generally, is very confident in his own skin.
On arrival, Karin goes off on an exploratory trek, eventually crossing paths with a neighbour. She has a very brief conversation and drops an unwitting bomb, by telling a small white lie. Karin is unaware of the ripple effect that her words would cause but, what happens next, is very unexpected.
Karin cannot relax. Everywhere she looks she is reminded of all that she doesn’t have. She thinks back over her life and sees missed opportunities. She chose her own path, falling in love and marrying Kai. He talks her down when her insecurities take flight. Karin depends on Kai to be her buffer, to stem her thoughts when she starts to waver. Karin and Kai are opposites and that’s what makes them work as a couple.
Over the few days, it’s soon clear that Karin’s white lie could potentially be an issue but Karin and Kai play along, creating a new truth and a new reality. With an underlying sense of discomfort and stress throughout, Agnes Ravatn creates wonderfully awkward scenes. The timing, the dialogue, the side conversations are all cleverly wrapped around a central rippling small lie that suddenly grows into something much bigger.
The Guests is almost voyeuristic in so many ways. We cringe, as the scenes unfold. Karin’s envy becomes central to the whole plot and her chameleon-like transformations provide for a very lively reading experience. The reader is drawn into the storyline as the situation gets a little more tangled, and Karin and Kai’s lives get a little more complicated.
The Guests is a novel that I honestly believe could work very well on stage. It has a theatrical element to it, which is highly entertaining. As a reader you know you are watching something on the verge of imploding, compelling you to keep reading to see what happens. With bubbling tension throughout, The Guests is a human story, a psychological drama about life and our desire to want what is not ours to take. A very intelligent novel!
[ Bio ]
Agnes Ravatn (b. 1983) is an author and columnist. She made her literary début with the novel Week 53 (Veke 53) in 2007, followed by 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 shows her unique, witty voice and sharp eye for human fallibility.
Her second novel, The Bird Tribunal (Fugletribuanlet), was an international bestseller, translated into fifteen languages, and 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. The critically acclaimed The Seven Doors was published in English in 2020.
Agnes lives with her family in the Norwegian countryside.
[ Bio of Translator Rosie Hedger]
Rosie Hedger was born in Scotland and completed her MA (Hons) in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She has lived and worked in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and now lives in York where she works as a freelance translator. Rosie was a candidate in the British Center for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for Norwegian in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett.