The Door


Author: Magda Szabo

Finished on: 25 August 2016

Where did I get this book: Bought on the kindle

Reading books is one of my favourite things. (You may have noticed). But what is even better than the pleasure in itself of quiet time with a book, is reading one that gives you fresh perspective and insight into your life more widely.

The Door is just such a book.

One of the joys of a kindle is having access to a world of books wherever you are (just as long as you have WiFi). I had never heard of Magda Szabo, but when on holiday in Hungary I googled Hungarian writers, and found her. And then five minutes later was reading this book.

As this is my first Hungarian read, it’s difficult to judge how much of the beauty and distinctiveness of the book is a Hungarian style, whether Szabo is a extraordinary writer even within Hungary, or whether it is cleverly translated. I suspect it must be all three. This book seems to work on an almost subconscious level to generate a gentle but profound emotional response.

The story is relatively simple: a writer and her intense, tempestuous and testing relationship with the magnificent Emerence, the old lady who works as her housekeeper. But the story is told with such authenticity, that even when it is frustrating, which it frequently is, it still feels revelatory.

Our need to be heard, for community and connections with one another, is conveyed beautifully.

Our Neanderthal ancestor learned to weep the first time he stood in triumph over the bison he had dragged in and found no-one to tell of his adventures, or show his spoils to, or even his wounds.

And despite the borderline desperation that our narrator feels to be close to Emerence, and the intensity of the relationship that develops between them, what is surprising is quite how horrible they are to each other. The book feels frustratingly true, the characters are depicted with a rawness that lays their flaws bare. Szabo poignantly depicts the walls between people that even the deepest of affection cannot overcome. Even love, respect and admiration for one another don’t stop us being self-absorbed and unkind.

I was reading this section whilst on a long train journey with my family this summer.

You think that life goes on for ever, and that it would be worth having if it did. You think there’ll always be someone to cook and clean for you, a plate full of food, paper to scribble on, the master to love you; and everyone will live for eternity, like a fairy tale.

I looked up from the kindle to see my family laughing and squabbling over playing ‘Snail Bob’ on the tablet, and eating cheese sandwiches.

It’s always good to be prompted to feel grateful; a nudge to look at things from a slightly sideways angle and see your life anew.

This is an unusual, beautiful and very special book. Highly recommended.


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