cover image The Door

The Door

Magda Szabó, trans. from the Hungarian by Len Rix. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-59017-771-6

In this poignant but long-winded novel by the late Hungarian author Szabó, a writer recounts her decades-long relationship with—and eventual betrayal of—her enigmatic and emotionally volatile housekeeper. The story opens in postwar Hungary, narrated from old age by the protagonist, who remains unnamed for much of the novel. After having their careers “politically frozen,” the narrator and her husband (also a writer) begin to work again and seek out domestic help for their new home in Budapest. They hire Emerence Szeredás, a local peasant with an air of authority and “strength like a Valkyrie.” Though Emerence initially proves an antagonistic worker—attacking the narrator’s belief in God, for instance—she eventually develops a deep affection for, and reliance upon, her employers. Over the years, she reveals secrets about her childhood and her peripheral involvement in Hungary’s troubled political past, ultimately inviting the narrator into her apartment, which she notoriously—and suspiciously—protects. Szabó is a master tension builder, and Emerence’s demise (foretold in the novel’s opening pages) is heartbreakingly rendered. But an abundance of unnecessary detail weighs down what is otherwise a lucid and politically intriguing character study. (Jan.)