A small but enthusiastic group met just after Easter to discuss the Reading Group’s latest selection, The Door, by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo. This unusual novel, published originally in 1987 and translated into English in 1995, and again in 2015, concerns the relationship between a writer and her housekeeper, in post war communist Hungary. Views expressed in the group were largely positive; students enjoyed the book and were not put off by its unconventional story line. The element of shock in the novel was highlighted but most discussion centred on the character of Emerence, the cantankerous, but ultimately heroic, housekeeper. Whilst she was not always easy to like, a consensus in the group was that she assumed a kind of stoic nobility by the end of the story, and her sad demise was truly poignant. The question arose as to whether there might be a Hungarian dimension to the novel of which foreign readers might not be aware. The group also considered the significance of the fact that the two main protagonists are women, with men occupying shadowy background roles; indeed, the dog Viola is almost as important to the story as the writer’s husband. The political context of the novel is never fully explored and the group felt that this was an effective device to maintain a kind of underlying tension.
Szabo is a new name to most of the group and The Door a successful choice. For the final session of the year, a selection of short stories will be chosen, including I Only Came to Use the Phone by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.