Book Review: The Guests, Agnes Ravatn

Book Review: The Guests, Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie Hedger

The Guests









Fiction: The Guests, Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie Hedger


Karin and Kai live a reasonable, middle-class life. Kai is a joiner (carpenter), Karin is a lawyer. They have two sons. To the world, they seem like a solid, albeit not exciting, couple living outside of Oslo. 


A childhood friend of Karin’s has given them a week’s vacation at her seaside cabin. It is a chance for the two of them to get away, without the kids, and just relax. 


Which would make for a short and boring novel, if that’s all that happened. 


In a way, though, that is what happens on the outside. What happens inside of Karin, though, is much more dramatic. Karin did not like her childhood “friend.” She believed that the vacation was an attempt by the woman to further some darker agenda. Far from being relaxing, the vacation brings out years of trauma from Karin’s mind. Externally, it’s a couple enjoying the peace and quiet away from Oslo. Internally, it’s a hellscape.


Agnes Ravatn digs deeply into the psyche of a woman losing touch with reality. Karin recognizes that her fevered scenarios are not real. That’s good information to have, but it does nothing to bridge the yawning chasm sucking her mind into darkness. In her mind, her friend is her enemy. The neighbors are judgmental. Her husband is unfaithful. Her history is one of failure and regret. 


It’s not easy to write about someone on the brink. Ravatn (beautifully translated by Rosie Hedger) employs abrupt and disjointed speech to reflect the abrupt and disjointed demeanor of Karin. She is in turns wildly spontaneous, shattered by guilt, eager to please, suspicious of everyone, happy with her life and family, and questioning every decision she’s ever made. She is spiraling in a maelstrom of her own creation, and she cannot see a way out. 


Mental illness is hard to live with. It’s also hard to live with someone who’s mentally ill. Ravatn draws her characters with clear eyes, showing both the darkness and the light. Karin’s story goes on past the final page, and we don’t learn how it ends. We do, though, see the anguish of someone whose reality is cracking underneath their feet. The truth of this fiction is evident to those of us who have walked in Karin’s footsteps. 


Our thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things for our copy of The Guests, provided so we could give an honest review. The opinions here are solely those of Scintilla. For other perspectives on this novel, check out the other bloggers on this tour. 

The Guests









Book Review: The Guests, Agnes Ravatn, translated by Rosie Hedger

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