We have a treat for you today on the blog. Keep reading! The creepy feeling from Agnes Ravatn’s previous book The Bird Tribunal still lingers in my memory. I have high hopes for her new book The Seven Doors and wonder if I will read it in one sitting as I did with her previous book. Agnes is an award winning writer from Norway and it gives me great pleasure to share an extract of her latest psychological thriller The Seven Doors on the blog today:
Monday 19th November
Towards the end of the day she receives a message from Ingeborg. She’s clocking off at 3pm, she writes. Could they take a look at the house on Birkeveien before picking Milja up from nursery?
She glances outside. It’s dry for once, the sun low in the sky. A stroll would do her good.
She hasn’t been there for years, she can’t remember the house number. She calls Mads, but there’s no answer. She searches the street name in her email inbox and finds an email between Mads and their financial advisor she was copied into four years ago. Birkeveien 61.
She pulls up a map on her phone and vaguely remembers visiting Aunt Lena many years ago now, an attractive Bergen lady with a walking frame who lived in a house filled with steep staircases.
Ingeborg is waiting for her outside the hospital building, tall and slim. She waves cheerfully when she catches sight of her mum and walks over to meet her just as an air ambulance lands on the helipad behind her.
How are you doing? Nina asks, but her daughter bats the question away, excited at the prospect of a terraced house in Landås.
Nina had been surprised when Ingeborg chose to pursue medicine like her father; she hadn’t ever felt that her daughter belonged in a job that called for warmth and empathy. All the same, she was pleased that her daughter had chosen such a practical career. What is the point in all of this? she had often wondered as she had watched her own students graduate, only to drift around in ambiguous professions within the culture and education sectors for unforeseeable periods of time.
With the help of the map on her phone, Nina leads the way along Idrettsveien and Gimleveien, past Brann Stadium, until they eventually reach Birkeveien. They pass two nursery schools and one supermarket en route. There’s something uncomfortably earnest about Ingeborg’s manner, she’s prowling like a cat, rosy cheeked, airing every thought that enters her head for all to hear.
Cynical children, Nina thinks to herself, it must be my punishment; I must have been doing something wrong during all my years of parenting. But what?
Here we are, Nina says eventually, stopping in her tracks. She looks from the phone to the house number. Ingeborg lets out a gasp.
And what a house it is too, she whispers.
They’re standing outside a small, ochre-yellow, semi-detached house over three floors, with red roof tiles and a front garden concealed behind a beech hedge, dense with crisp brown leaves.
Fourteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds, Ingeborg says excitedly, looking up from her watch. And with two nurseries along the way. Mum…
She looks at her mother pleadingly.
It’s ideal, certainly, Nina says.
And I do love the colour, Ingeborg says, her gaze fixed lovingly on the yellow façade.
First, we need to speak to your father, Nina says, lifting a hand to curtail Ingeborg’s excitement.
Ingeborg is already halfway through the gate, and Nina realises that it’s pointless to try to stop her.
A woman’s bicycle with a child’s seat on the back has been left leaning against the wall beside the front door. There’s no sign of a nameplate. The gravel crunches underfoot as if they were wearing horseshoes; Ingeborg scuttles over to the corner of the property to get an idea of what the back garden looks like.
It’s certainly very nice, she says loudly, seeking her mother’s endorsement.
It’s family-friendly, in any case, Nina says, bringing a finger to her lips to hush her daughter’s loud excitement.
There’s a light on upstairs, Ingeborg says, and before Nina can stop her, she’s pressed the doorbell.
But Ingeborg… she says.
What? Ingeborg says, looking somewhat aggressive.
Someone lives here.
Well yes. In our house.
She must be at work, Nina says. It’s only quarter past three.
But I heard something.
I didn’t hear anything, Nina says.
They stand there for a few moments. Nina can tell from the frosty mist surrounding Ingeborg that she is breathing quickly.
We can hardly go barging in unannounced, she says.
Ingeborg leans forwards and presses the doorbell again, holding it for an extra-long time. Nina turns to walk back out onto the street, distancing herself from Ingeborg’s persistence. We’ll call or write, she says. Then we’ll come back in a few days’ time. There’s no great rush, after all.
Her daughter gazes at her beseechingly.
Eirik booked an agent this morning. We’re putting our place on the market as soon as we can, do you know how quickly a colony of silverfish multiplies?
In that same instant, someone tentatively opens the front door.
Ingeborg spins around on the gravel.
A young woman gazes back through the gap in the door. Behind her is a serious-looking little boy, dark-eyed and darkhaired, just like his mother.
I’ve seen you before, Nina thinks to herself as she locks eyes with the woman, but she can’t quite place her.
The woman looks at her unanticipated guests expectantly.
Peekaboo! Ingeborg says, an excited expression on her face as she peers at the boy, who clings to his mother’s burgundy wool jumper.
The woman looks from Ingeborg to Nina and back to Ingeborg again.
Yes? she says.
Ingeborg Wisløff Glaser, she says. We’re the owners of the property.
Ingeborg, Nina whispers.
The woman at the door furrows her brow.
This is my mother, Ingeborg says, nodding in Nina’s direction as her mother takes a step back.
Hi there, she says in as friendly a tone as she can muster. It wasn’t our intention to disturb you, she begins, but she is interrupted by Ingeborg.
Could we have a little look around the house? she asks.
The woman looks at Ingeborg with a puzzled expression.
Oh, Ingeborg says, turning to her mother. She doesn’t speak Norwegian. Excuse us, Ingeborg enunciates emphatically, starting again, we are the landlords.
Yes, the woman says, I understand what you’re saying.
Ingeborg, this is starting to sound like a raid, Nina says under her breath.
Ingeborg gives her mother a confused look before turning back around to face the woman at the door.
I’m a specialist at Haukeland University Hospital, she says smugly, so this area couldn’t be any more perfect for us. We’ve got a little girl, she’s three, she’s going to be a big sister soon actually, so we’re going to need all the play space we can get.
Nina shakes her head inwardly as she observes her daughter with growing discomfort. She might as well be wearing a pith helmet, whip in hand.
The woman stands in the doorway, stiff and silent. The boy whimpers, his mother picks him up and balances him on one hip, he clings to her, burrowing his face in her neck.
You’ll have a few months’ notice, obviously, Ingeborg says impatiently. But before we terminate the contract, I’d love to have a look inside.
If it’s not convenient then we can come back another time, Nina interjects, with what she hopes is a warm, apologetic smile.
It’s not really a good time, the woman in the doorway says.
Just a quick peek? Ingeborg says.
I’m sorry, she says, shaking her head.
How many bedrooms are there, can I ask? Ingeborg says.
The woman thinks about whether she should answer the question or not.
Three, she says eventually, and Ingeborg looks starry-eyed.
Ingeborg, Nina says, then turns to the woman. I’m sorry that we’ve disturbed you like this, she says. We’ll get in touch and arrange another time.
Does it have a fireplace? Ingeborg asks as Nina tugs at her coat sleeve to lead her away. Please, the woman says, comforting her son.
I can assure you, Ingeborg continues imperviously, we really don’t mind if the place is a little untidy.
It is as if the woman surrenders. She hesitates for a moment, then reluctantly steps to one side. Ingeborg makes her way in, unabashed, and follows the woman inside and upstairs without removing her boots.
Nina sighs silently and walks in after them, up the narrow staircase; she recognises the psychedelic, red cyclamen wallpaper. She vaguely remembers having visited once, many years ago, probably when Ingeborg was a baby. Aunt Lena had visited them numerous times, but very rarely returned the invitation.
As they enter the living room she thinks hard about where she might have seen the woman before. The boy is sitting on the floor beside a pirate ship.
It’s like being in a museum, Ingeborg says. How long have you lived here?
Just over three years, the woman replies.
And you’ve never felt the need to change anything? Ingeborg asks, gesturing towards the room. Impressive.
I’m not all that interested in interior design, the woman replies curtly.
Is it alright if I have a little look around? Ingeborg asks, and the woman nods.
Nina stands in the middle of the room, uncertain, while the woman looks down.
I didn’t properly introduce myself downstairs. Nina Wisløff, she says, offering the woman an outstretched hand.
Things are silent for a moment as Ingeborg rushes back and forth, flitting from one room to the next with her coat flapping behind her.
Have we met? Nina asks after a short while.
I don’t think so.
She might be a little younger than Ingeborg, but older than most of her students.
The furniture in the living room is just as she remembers it. Old-fashioned, Norwegian armchairs, a teak table, a narrow, threadbare old sofa. The bookshelves belonged to Aunt Lena, but the old encyclopaedias and book-club novels from the 1970s are gone. Nina lets her eyes wander over the spines of the books that now fill the shelves, she sees works of poetry, philosophy, a surprising number of German titles, plus contemporary fiction. Parenting books. A large collection of LPs. A record player has been positioned on a table of its own over by the window.
The young woman’s gaze follows Ingeborg as humming drifts across the room from the corner where the toys are kept.
How old is he? Nina asks.
He just turned three.
A lovely age, Nina says. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter myself.
The woman says nothing. Nina stands there smiling, glancing in the direction of the kitchen. It’s an original, untouched since the 1950s. Beside the kitchen table is a Tripp Trapp highchair and an ordinary kitchen chair. On the table is a pile of books, a stack of paper, a laptop, and three small, black notebooks. She’s studying something, Nina thinks.
Ingeborg climbs down from the small attic space.
Do you remember what it says in your contract? she asks. How many months’ notice you’re entitled to?
How quickly could you move out, do you think?
The woman looks at her quizzically. We’ve got a bit of a situation on our hands, you see. Maybe we could make a small financial contribution if you managed to pack up in, say— Ingeborg, Nina interrupts sharply.
But, the woman says, we don’t have anywhere … my little boy, Ask, he goes to nursery just along the road, we…
This is a decision for your father and I, not for you, Nina tells her daughter in a tentatively authoritative tone.
But Mum, Ingeborg groans, before turning back to the woman.
Five thousand kroner?
I’m sorry we’ve disturbed you, Nina says. There’s no need for you to see us out.
Ten thousand? Ingeborg says, as her mother nudges her downstairs.
The door slams behind them, and Nina tugs at Ingeborg until they are back out on the pavement.
Goodness, she was odd, Ingeborg says, prising herself free from her mother’s grasp.
She was odd? Nina says. You were like a member of the Gestapo in there, ready to deport her and move in!
It’s just the hormones, Ingeborg says. Nesting. You’ve forgotten what it’s like.
Nina says nothing, seething with shame at her daughter’s behaviour and frantically trying to put her finger on where she has seen the woman before. If she happens to work at the university, it’ll be a catastrophe.
I’ll come back with you to talk to Dad, Ingeborg says. He understands the need for haste.
I’ll be the one to talk to your father, Nina says sharply.
But he doesn’t listen to you, her daughter replies.
Extract provided by Orenda Books. This post is part of a blog tour. Please check out other bloggers reviews/giveaways as part of the tour. The Seven Doors is coming out in paperback on 17 September 2020 and the RRP is £8.99.