The Door by Magda Szabó

There are writers that place their characters in history, and there are writers that tell history through their characters – Magda Szabó is the latter. She writes the history of women, through the modernisation of Hungary, with such ease. It’s as if you could know these women and their lives.

The Door surprised me in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Read it and you’ll become the protagonist, realising that what is your way isn’t the only way.

td“A young writer, struggling for success, employs an elderly woman called Emerence to be her housekeeper. From their first encounter it is clear that Emerence is no ordinary maid.

Although everyone in the neighbourhood knows and respects her, no one knows anything about her private life or has ever crossed her threshold. Only a great drama in the writer’s life prompts Emerence to unveil glimpses of her traumatic past – a past which sheds light on her peculiar behaviour.

The Door brilliantly evokes the development of the bond between these two very different women, and the tragic ending to their relationship.” GoodReads.

Emerence is like no other character I have ever encountered. Cantankerous, coarse, who will always think the opposite of what you expect her to. Next to Sylvia Teitjens, she may be one of my favourite characters ever written.

Employed by the nameless writer and her husband, Emerence becomes a force in their lives – irreplaceable whenever temporarily removed. She takes control of their lives, cleans and cooks, and even becomes more of an owner to their dog Viola then they do. Emerence has had a life harder than most, born out of bad situations and bad personal choices (perhaps). She is intensely private and prideful, dripping secrets slowly over the years to her young employer.

I often took the side of the protagonist narrator, not always in how she reacts to Emerence, but the way in which she prioritises her life and the guilt that inevitable follows. She is privileged, and finds it hard to comprehend Emerence’s reaction to her writer’s rise to fame. She hasn’t known what it is like to lose everything and remain respected, and in the end respect may be all she has.

My copy was translated by Len Rix, rather than George Szirtes who translated my copy of Iza’s Ballad. Rix translates wonderfully, but I did miss the voice I had come to enjoy from Szirtes. Iza’s Ballad was immersive, inescapable. The Door was harder to grasp, but a deeper reading experience.

I’m not sure if it is the translation that made them utterly different reading experiences, or the twenty-or-so years between each book. Either way, I’ve not enjoyed an author this much in some time.

4 thoughts on “The Door by Magda Szabó

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