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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Door

by
Szabó Magda


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Door



Title: The Door
Author: Szabó Magda
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 265 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Door - US
The Door - UK
The Door - Canada
The Door - India
La porte - France
Hinter der Tür - Deutschland
La porta - Italia
La puerta - España
  • Hungarian title: Az ajtó
  • Translated by by Len Rix
  • With an Introduction by Ali Smith
  • Previously translated by Stefan Draughon (1995)
  • The Door was made into a film in 2012, directed by Szabó István and starring Helen Mirren

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective character- and relationship portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 28/10/2005 Elena Seymenliyska
The Independent A 18/1/2006 Paul Bailey
London Rev. of Books . 15/12/2005 Liam McIlvanney
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 8/2/2015 Claire Messud
The Telegraph A 30/10/2005 Tibor Fischer
TLS A+ 9/12/2005 Ali Smith


  From the Reviews:
  • "There is much in this story that will bewilder and perplex (perhaps something of the mercurial Hungarian mindset is lost in translation), but The Door is a valuable document of a vital relationship." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Guardian

  • "(P)rofoundly moving (.....) Emerence is an unforgettable character, as rich and varied as anyone in Balzac or Dostoyevsky. (...) Len Rix's fluent translation is a belated and welcome gift to readers in English." - Paul Bailey, The Independent

  • "Szabo’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life. A work of stringent honesty and delicate subtlety, The Door is a story in which, superficially, very little happens." - Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Door is a triumph for the editorial judgment of Christopher MacLehose, the eminence grise of Harvill. Clever, moving, frightening, it deserves to be a bestseller." - Tibor Fischer, The Telegraph

  • "The Door is so full-blooded and stately a book that it clearly belongs with a shelf of equally fully made creations by the (now elderly) Szabo, every one of which the reader will want to find after finishing this compelling, funny and horrifying novel, translated by Len Rix in a rich and calm tone. (...) Magda Szabo’s novel is a study of survival tactics, of finding voice out of silence, and of the ways in which authenticity dismisses fakery at every turn not just in art and culture but in a life truly lived, and truly ended." - Ali Smith, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Moving into a new house with her husband and finding her writing career picking up steam again (after having been "politically frozen" for a decade in then-still Communist Hungary), the narrator of The Door, Magda -- essentially the author --, decides she needs some help around the house. A local woman, Emerence, is recommended to her -- but she's anything but your usual housekeeper. A force of nature, she sets the terms regarding pretty much anything to do with her. She decides whether she'll take the job (and she's the one who wants references about her potential employers); she'll determine how much she should get paid (after a trial period, to see how much work is involved); she'll work when she wants to (making for some very odd hours). She does take the job, but it's only one more thing that keeps the perpetually busy woman bustling about.
       The Door is a novel about Emerence, and Magda's relationship with her over the next twenty years -- an intense one that develops into a sort of friendship, even as the two obstinate women often butt heads. Emerence is a larger-than-life character. Incredibly strong, endlessly active, she's often incredibly helpful and thoughtful when people are in need, but can also seem entirely ruthless; she is, wherever she goes, the dominating personality. Church-hating, barely educated, she stands in stark contrast to Magda and her husband (who is also a writer, and always has a book at hand) -- "she was the thing itself, an anti-intellectual" -- yet a mutual sense of respect and reliance develops between them.
       Among Emerence's quirks is her refusal to allow anyone into her home, a sanctum sanctorum she shares with her cats, with its contents and what she does there nobody's business but hers. Magda does eventually get a glimpse of this off-limits personal territory, showing just how much Emerence trusts her, but even so Magda can not entirely connect with Emerence. Emerence's strong-willed ideals are a lot to live up to, as Magda eventually realizes when there is a crisis.
       Magda learns details about Emerence's life over the years, and these experiences -- especially the horrible defining one from childhood -- certainly go a long way to explaining Emerence's attitudes and behavior. Despite her harsh and uncompromising manner, Emerence is also widely respected and receives the necessary support from the community for her to continue -- as long as she can -- going her own way; Magda is surprised she hasn't been caught up in the various authorities' machineries over the decades, but Emerence proves near untouchable.
       In the brief opening chapter Magda already acknowledges:

I killed Emerece. The fact that I was trying to save her rather than destroy her changes nothing.
       The Door builds to this almost inevitable end: what Magda perceives as Emerence's one great weakness, her inability to let people in (not just figuratively but here even literally, just to make sure readers don't miss the point) is an essential part of Emerence; ultimately, it's impossible to even just try to save her without destroying her.
       Emerence is a fantastic character. She should verge on the unbelievable, and yet Szabó makes her convincingly real. Around her, The Door is a novel of vivid incident and deep, complex relationships (right down to that with the dog), a fascinating account of personal journeys and how they shape us in difficult times and circumstances.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 February 2015

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Links:

The Door: Reviews: The Door - the film: Szabó Magda: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Hungarian author Szabó Magda lived 1917 to 2007.

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© 2015 the complete review

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