Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Door by Magda Szabó

Review of The Door by Magda Szabó

The DoorBotond bought this book for me. Having enjoyed another book he got me by another Hungarian author (Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb; both books were translated by Len Rix) I was looking forward to a good read.

The novel is a first person narrative – the narrator being Magda Szabó herself, or a fictionalised version thereof. The time period is never specified exactly, but, while in some places it feels like the early 20th century, it becomes clear that it’s set during the latter decades of Communist rule in Hungary. Politics and political figures feature peripherally in the story, but rarely with any specficity.

The story begins with the narrator in search of a housekeeper – she and her husband live a privileged middle-class life. She finds Emerence, an older and eccentric woman. Emerence is obsessed with hard work, doesn’t indulge in chitchat, refuses to accommodate anyone else’s ways of doing things, never lets anyone into her home … the list of her idiosyncrasies is long. She’s partly a fascinating character, partly exasperating.

The narrator, on the other hand, is less ambivalent – she is mostly exasperating: constantly hand-wringing and whining, she spends the book agonising over what she’s done to Emerence (which events are related at the end of the novel). The upshot is that The Door is potentially very moving, but it’s handicapped by its two annoying main characters.

There’s a part where the narrator is invited in February to speak at the library in Emerence’s hometown two months later. Emerence doesn’t go because her housekeeping work is too important. I quoted a passage from that chapter a while ago. February plus two months is April, if my calculations are correct. However, when she arrives at the town it’s high summer. It’s not the only instance of the text being self-contradictory or confusing.

In places, The Door is very good, but by the end I didn’t really care about the two protagonists’ mutual self-destruction.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
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