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.


Care said...

Sounds like my kind of book! I do like thoughtful novels.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Wow! This sounds incredible!

Zibilee said...

I had not heard of this book before now, but you make it sound like a really rich and complex read that I would very much enjoy. I haven't had the experience of reading many books that are light on dialogue, but in this case, I think the lack is not necessarily a hindrance. I will be looking for this one, Marie!

bermudaonion said...

I think I'd have to be in the right mood to tackle this one.

Kathleen said...

I've added a few contemplative, quiet reads like this one to my TBR and will wait for just the right moment to read one. I'm adding this one to my list too.

Anonymous said...

intriguing. like bermudaonion i may have to be in a certain mood to read this one, but i think that mood might occur this Winter.

--after you recommended Almost Insider I have been pulling from the archive and enjoying her posts. thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm always a bit skeptical of books where the narrator is not named. Not sure why--it just tends to bother me more often than not. This book does sound great though.

Anni said...

It was an interesting experience to read your review. Thanks :)

To the topic unnamed narrator: In Szabo's books are the narrators usually Magda Szabo's alter egos. The writer/the narrator in The Door is the "fictionalized" Magda Szabo.
It's a quite "personal" art of literature.

Oh, yes, and: the director Istvan Szabo (Mephisto, Sunshine, Being Julia, etc) is currenly making a movie version from this book with Helen Mirren in Emerenc's role.

Audra said...

Both recs -- this book and the blogger -- are fabulous. I've just started 'following' the other blog, and I've added this to my TBR. Thanks for the tips! ;)

Unknown said...

Hi everybody! i'm sorry, i dont speak english very good. im from russia.i read this mari's review about magda's szado book. in Russia unfortunately this book does not. online electronic version is not found((( maby anyone can be pleasure to send me a copy of pages.. my mail: alisa_saxarok_12@mail.ru
I really want to read this book.. please help))
in return I get any interesting russian books if they are suddenly hard to find))
p.s.This is the first post I write in foreign blogger;)