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The Door (1987)

by Magda Szabó

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2426511,071 (4.1)120
"The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship with Hungary's Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda's housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda's household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love--at least until Magda's long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation. Len Rix's prizewinning translation of The Door at last makes it possible for American readers to appreciate the masterwork of a major modern European writer"--… (more)
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» See also 120 mentions

English (57)  French (3)  Italian (2)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
The reviews sounded interesting -- a friendship between a female writer and her head-strong, opinionated housekeeper. Set in Hungary after the Communists, Magna hired Emerence as her house-keeper. The rest of the story is the development of their complicated and mutual love and dislike for each other. Emerence is a worker and everyone in the community somehow depends on her. She does not understand anything about the importance of Magna's writing. According to Emerence, there are two people in the world: those who sweep and those that boss the sweepers. Emerence is a sweeper.

In spite of rave reviews, I really can't say I understood the relationship. Magna develops a strange sense of responsibility to Emerence and the dog "Viola" who Magna rescues but who loves Emerence. I'm supposing there is far more here than meets my eye. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 14, 2020 |
I am a little awestruck by the elegance by which the author attacked many poignant themes about two specific women living through turbulent times, and how each contended with life and one another. Apparently this book was translated from Hungarian 30 years after it was initially published, sad that it took so long to hear other voices, wonderful that it is now occurring. ( )
  EvaJanczaruk | May 31, 2020 |
this book was torture, three stars because someone smarter than me might like it! ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
Since reading The Door, I've spent some time thinking about the nature of interpersonal relationships that spring from an employer/employee situation. If you find out that such a relationship has turned sour, you'd imagine it would be due to the employer attempting to exercise control over their employee due to financial leverage. In the case of Magda and her housekeeper Emerence, however, it is the employee who wields all the power in the "friendship", and she uses it so skillfully that she manages to negatively affect the life of her employer despite being long dead.

At first glance, it seems odd that Magda is so interested in connecting with Emerence at all. Emerence isn't friendly, shares nothing of herself with anyone, and verbally abuses Magda constantly throughout the novel. Magda seems to write this off as her own personal flaw, as she feels a need to make close connections with anyone and everyone in her life. That could partially explain things, but I think Emerence is more responsible than Magda is.

Emerence has lucked upon a woman who is profoundly ill-equipped to maintain a house, and she takes advantage of this by attacking the house with an unrivaled work ethic and complete physical dedication despite her advanced age. Magda just views this as evidence that Emerence is a good worker, but once she begins to develop a dependency on her housekeeper, it's clear what's going on. Emerence isn't driven by an internal work ethic. She's driven by a desire to control.

She wants to control her friends. She views them as far dumber than her and in perpetual need of her assistance or advice. And when her friend Pollett decides that she wants to take her own life, Emerence decides that, rather than risk her friend making a decision on her own, she should take the initiative from Pollett and walk her through how to perform her own suicide. She hates God and hates bad weather in equal measure, and both of these hatreds have reasonable surface explanations that come with an underlying sense that she hates these things because they're out of her control. She doesn't let her pets outside because she can't control what happens to them when they aren't in her house, and she won't let any people inside her house aside from Madga, over whom she has complete control. And what devastates her near the end of her life is not her physical infirmity, but her lack of control over her public image.

What's difficult about this is that Emerence might not even be aware of it. She might see herself as someone with a clear understanding of the right and wrong way to behave, and there are instances where she shows decency. But her good moments are mostly told to us rather than shown to us, and what we're shown isn't pretty.

One minor detail that stuck out to me was Emerence's anger with critics who wrote negative reviews of Magda's writing. Emerence hates writing as an art form and a profession, and she frequently criticizes Magda's vocation. So why does she care when other people malign her work? It's simple. We all remember in middle school and high school how bullying worked. There were the bullies and there were the bullied, but not everyone was supposed to pick on the same people. Each social clique had its own bottom rung on the totem pole, and those kids would be defended from outside attacks, with the message being, "This is our punching bag, not yours." It's because high school bullies, like Emerence, rely on control. They have to control the viewpoint of their victim to keep them from envisioning a world without their targeted harassment. Emerence's fear is that a critic's negative review of Magda's work might forge in her a desire to make the critic happy, which might get in the way of her constant efforts to satisfy Emerence.

Is there harm done here? The argument could be made in this case that the ends justify the means. Magda is able to be successful in her writing because Emerence takes on so much of the housework, more than any other person can handle. And if the attendance at Emerence's funeral is anything to go by, people certainly valued her. You don't have to be a good person deep down to be good for the community.

I guess my only real point is that Emerence didn't need to be so miserable. She did all the right things, but she did them for all the wrong reasons, and it left her in a terrible state at the end of her life. Would she have accomplished all she did around town if she didn't have her questionable motivation to do so? Maybe not, but plenty of communities around the world have survived without the efforts of one individual completing Herculean tasks day after day, and I bet some of those places are happier than this one, too.

The Door is an excellent read whether you're looking to reflect on your relationships or not. Szabó is a great writer who infuses a low-stakes story with surprising tension, and I enjoyed it a whole lot. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
Claustrophobic and compelling character study. So, so good. ( )
  AshLaz | Mar 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
"Den fortjener å bli en bestselger."
 

"... en sjelden velskrevet, morsom og rørende bok ... "Døren" skal du lese fordi du fortjener det."
 
"... et av de mest underfundige portrett jeg noensinne har lest."
 
"Døren" er den type roman du ikke er ferdig med etter endt lesning ... noe av hemmeligheten ved at "Døren" griper så uimotståelig, er at den gjennomføres med konsekvens, uten sentimentalitet. Resten er det uhåndgripelige som kjennetegner all stor kunst."
 
"Døren" er en roman der leseren rives med fra første side. Den er et fascinerende portrett av to kvinner - historiens forteller, en forfatter, og den eldre uforglemmelige hushjelpen Emerenc, som har jobbet for henne i nærmere tjue år. Den ene lever nesten bare gjennom ordene, den andre kan knapt nok lese. Likevel knyttes de nærmere sammen enn noen av dem kunne ane. For Emerenc gir alt, enten det dreier seg om å redde en jøde, en tysker, en tyv eller en hjemløs katt. Hun tviler aldri et sekund. Men det er én ting hun ikke deler. Hun slipper aldri noen innenfor døren til sitt hjem.
 

» Add other authors (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Magda Szabóprimary authorall editionscalculated
Daróczi, AnikóTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Draughon, StefanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Komlósi, MártaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paetzke, Hans-HenningTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philippe, ChantalTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rix, LenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thies, VeraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The Door ( [2011]IMDb)
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Ritkán álmodom.
I seldom dream
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"The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship with Hungary's Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda's housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda's household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love--at least until Magda's long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation. Len Rix's prizewinning translation of The Door at last makes it possible for American readers to appreciate the masterwork of a major modern European writer"--

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