Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hungary: The Door, by Magda Szabó

This is the story of the relationship between a writer and her housekeeper, Emerence, an elderly woman about whom at first we (and the narrator) know very little. Everyone in the neighbourhood knows and respects Emerence, but Emerence has some very unusual habits and reveals little of herself to those around her. No one has ever been inside her door - she entertains visitors on her front porch. Gradually however, she comes to trust the writer and her husband, and to reveal to them events from her past life, which explain why she lives the way she does.

The first brief chapter starts "I seldom dream. When I do, I wake with a start, bathed in sweat" and ends "I killed Emerence. The fact that I was trying to save her rather than destroy her changes nothing". With that beginning, one is compelled to read on and discover the reasons for the narrator's statement. The book is a brilliant character study of the two women, and of those around them, as events unfold towards their tragic end.

Undoubtedly this will be on my top ten list this year. I can find no way to expand on the brief summary above, which does not do justice to the plot or to the complexity of the characters."The Door" is translated by Len Rix and published by Vintage Books in 2005. The original Hungarian version was published in 1987. Magda Szabó was born in 1917 in Debrecen, Hungary and died in 2007. She started as a poet, moved to writing fiction and has been awarded many prizes.

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