Kalliope Muse speaks to me

Emigrée from GR

The Door

The Door - Magda Szabó How on earth could the telling of the life and character of an aged Hungarian cleaning lady feel so eerily uncanny? Because, do not be mistaken, this is not a mystery book. This is a novel about the relationship between two women: an illiterate servant and her considerably younger employer, a writer. The latter narrates the story, which is set in Hungary around the 1960s-80s. So, how could this be such a memorable story? Magda Szabo (1917-2007) proves in The Door to be an astounding writer. After a gripping beginning, she then takes us through a very intense, scary, and magical unfolding of the tale. Szabo draws her brushstrokes regularly, building up the suspense, or may be peeling off the many veils that cover reality. What emerges is the extraordinary and colossally strong personality of Emerence, the servant. She is an atavistic force that communicates with animals like no other person can, and who has a magnetic power and physical strength to attract or banish or condemn those beings around her according to her beliefs, moods and whims. In contrast, the other woman --the “woman writer”-- as narrator seems subjected to the will of the strong elderly servant. The unbalance in strength is found also in the way the book focuses our view. If the name of Emerence is introduced at the very beginning of the book, the name of the “woman writer”, Magdchen, which is also Szabo’s name, is only mentioned, in passing, towards the end. The writer and creator becomes the anonymous observer, the “woman writer” in the story. But is she just an observer? Is she really subjected to Emerence’s forces? For, as she tells us, at the very beginning: “ I killed Emerence…” And this chilling start prompts the telling of the story that led to this, the relationship between two beings that The Door separates. This ambiguity on who is acting on whom makes me think of this book as a meditation on subjectivity. The Door was published in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated by Len Rix, winning him the prestigious Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize in 2006. This is my first book by Magda Szabo and would like to read more. Unfortunately very little has been translated. Now I will wait until Istvan Sazbo’s 2012 film version, with Helen Mirren as Emerence is shown in a cinema near me…!!!

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