Tuesday, September 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Door, by Magda Szabó

The Door, by Magda Szabó. Published 2006 by Vintage UK. Literary Fiction. Translation.

I first heard of Magda Szabó's fascinating novel The Door on the blog Almost Insider; if you read literary fiction, you need to be reading Anni's wonderful reviews of interesting and lesser-known European books. As is often the case, her review caught my eye; eventually I was able to track down a copy of the book and sat down to read it a few weeks ago. Wow.

The Door is the story of a friendship between two very different women in post-war Hungary. The narrator, who is never named, is a young married woman working hard to make it as a writer; she hires Emerence, an older woman from her village, to be her housekeeper. But their relationship becomes a much deeper as Emerence becomes indispensable to the household and exacts a kind of fealty in return for her truly remarkable domestic service, even giving the couple a puppy trained to be dependent on her so as to occupy a central role in their lives.

Frosty at first, over the years the narrator's relationship with Emerence grows closer as Emerence slowly entrusts tidbits about her mysterious past to the narrator. The door of the title is the front door of Emerence's home, inside which no one is ever admitted. As Emerence ages and becomes concerned with what will become of her legacy, it falls to the narrator to take responsibility for the ailing housekeeper. The final barriers fall in a heartbreaking way that ensures no one's life will ever be the same.

The Door is a dense character study of these two women; by telling Emerence's story through the writer's eyes, Szabó shows the reader both women in great detail. We can tell a lot about the narrator by the way she thinks and describes herself and Emerence, and we see the community that forms around Emerence- the other women in the village, the dog, and more- and the narrator's exclusion from it, even as she comes to enjoy a great deal of professional success and celebrity. A moving and tragic narrative with little dialogue, told from the perspective of memory, shot through with regret and sadness and deliberately paced, The Door will appeal to literary readers looking for something slow and thoughtful. It's a little gem with its own special brilliance.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.