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The Door by Magda Szabó

Updated: Feb 20

1987, East European Monographs/Harvill Secker

Bookclub meeting, 21 April 2023


Oh dear, why didn't I take better notes of our bookclub conversation. It's always nicer to concentrate on the lovely faces of my favorite bookies than to take notes. But now I can't remember everything, or practically anything we said. I know Jane's apartment was looking beautiful and cozy, the green tea from the Himalayas was tasty and warm, Yvonne's stash of presents from Japan was titillating as always, and both Jane and I were pleased with our literary mugs from Politics and Prose in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC, thanks Yvonne.


The Door explores the relationship between the narrator - a writer, and her maid Emerence. The two women are connected by what could be called a friendship, but they have different lives, outlooks and characters, and the narrator ultimately fails Emerence. Her feelings of guilt are symbolized by a dream which begins and ends the novel, and gave me the desire to start over at the beginning without a break.


If that description is a bit scant, read this exchange with Tom, my The Door-supplier.


kb: Tom, thank you so much for loaning me the The Door. I read it with my bookclub and we all really liked it. I hadn’t read any fiction for quite awhile and it was nice to get back to it.


Tom: I'm glad that you liked The Door ! I think of it as a one-of-a-kind, double character study of the autobiographical narrator and Emerence. It might even be a triple character study: Viola is an amazing creation! Have you ever read such a poignant portrait of a dog? (In some ways, it is rather a hard one to believe.) But the whole time I was listening to/reading The Door, I felt as though I was in the realm of memoir as much as fiction. And it certainly gives you some of the flavor of 20th Century Hungary.


kb: It's true there are parallels to the author's life: Magda Szabo was inspired by her relationship with a maid, was censored as a writer under the Communist regime in Hungary, and won several prestigious writing awards. Here are a couple of quotes I notes from the book.


QUOTES:


Emerence on Fiction:


The narrator explains that Emerence considers her writing as "an occupation comparable with play." Hoping to help her understand the act of creation, she takes Emerence to a film she's making, thinking this will be more concrete than writing. However, this attempt backfires; furious, Emerence says that the filmmakers are "liars, cheats...none of it was real...sheer deception; it was disgusting." When the writer says, "Don't you think it's a function of art to create the illusion of reality?" Emergence disagrees. "You're all clowns, and more contemptible...you're worse than con men. (p 133)


The Narrator on Rewards:

"The prize, I reflected bitterly, had already begun to work its influence. I had rushed off in a TV car towards its radiance, away from illness, old age, loneliness and incapacity." (p 188)


Tom: The quotations reminded me of the tension between Emerence frequently disparaging tone toward Magda and, at the same time, her love of Magda. I guess that that may qualify as a Christian theme (sin and grace/God’s love?). But Magda, despite her devout Catholic sensibility, seems challenged to reconcile those two tendencies in Emerence (as many of us would be). Also, it seems as though so much of Magda’s reactions to Emerence has roots in Magda’s sense of guilt.


Watch:












Note February 19, 2024: I finally watched the film The Door. Beautiful, great acting. If you have to choose one and like to read, read the book, but if possible do both!

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