Publisher: NYRB Classics

The Door by Magda Szabó

Posted August 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

The Door by Magda SzabóTitle: The Door (Goodreads)
Author: Magda Szabó
Translator: Len Rix
Published: NYRB Classics, 1987
Pages: 262
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

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Magda Szabó is one of those authors I have wanted to read for a very long time; her novel The Door seemed like the perfect place to start. This Hungarian modern classic explores the relationship between two very different women. Our narrator Magda is a writer and intellectual who is constantly in and out of favour with the government, while Emerence is her strong and opinionated house keeper. The novel starts with Magda waking up from a dream to face a haunting fact, that she killed Emerence.

The first thing that sticks out to me in this novel is the relationship between Magda and Emerence. I am drawn to the raw approach Magda Szabó took to explore this relationship. There are times where there was heat and toxicity between the two but then there were other times of affection and love. It is rare to read a relationship written so well. I often feel like the nuances of a relationship are never explored to any satisfactory level. In The Door we get to experience the ups and downs of this relationship. There are many times I felt frustrated by their actions but that ends up just being their different personalities butting heads.

Throughout the novel, a door is used as a metaphor to give the reader a more in depth look at these two characters. At times the door is a symbol of secretiveness, especially when it comes to Emerence. However there are times that it is used to symbolise the current state of their friendship. Whether they were actively distancing themselves from each other or they were close enough to share in a secret. The effect of the door becomes an important symbol of understanding Emerence. The fact that she would greet her guests outside and never let them inside shows just how close the two have become when she lets Magda inside.

Set between 1960 and 1980 in Hungary, it is important to know that this was when the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party was in control. If you explore this relationship of Magda and Emerence under a Marxist lens you will see where I am going here. We have Magda representing the intelligentsia and Emerence is a symbol of the working class. The idea behind the Bolshevik Revolution was to make sure people were treated the same. Without the working class, the October Revolution would have never happened. However it was the intelligentsia that took leadership, essentially creating a new social class system, thus negating their whole revolution.

In the end of The Door we are left we are left with the emptiness of losing Emerence. This woman seemed to possess inhuman strength and drive and her death left such a big hole not only Magda’s life but the whole community. If I was to compare Emerence death with the state of Hungary at the time of writing this novel. I would say that this is a reflection of the Hungarian economic and political reforms which let the country into mounting foreign debts. The cause of this points to Hungary’s outdated manufacturing facilities the inability to produce goods that were saleable on world markets.

It might be my love for Soviet literature, but my approach to this was very much a Marxist approach. Like many books in the Soviet era, I think The Door explored so many interesting elements of the country’s political and social issues. From religion to the class struggle and then the death of the working class. Analysing a novel and looking at the historical context really opens up the book for me. I know some people do not appreciate literary theories but for me it is a way to bring the text to life. Marxism and psychoanalysis are the two methods I seem to use the most, but I do not think I am equipped to fulling analyse Emerence. Although Magda might be easier, same name as the author, a writer, an enemy to the Communist Party, sounds autobiographical to me. Which makes me wonder, what was she trying to say with the death of Emerence?

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

Posted January 9, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy CasaresTitle: The Invention of Morel (Goodreads)
Author: Adolfo Bioy Casares
Translator: Ruth L.C. Simms
Artist: Norah Borges
Published: NYRB Classics, 1940
Pages: 103
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Never have I read anything like The Invention of Morel, it is beautiful and yet left me somewhat confused. I have spent more time thinking about this novella than actually reading it. While the plot is straight forward, it is the bizarre and fantastical elements that left me perplexed. The novella tells the story of a man on the run, who hides on a deserted island (the fictional island of Villings which is believed to be part of the Ellice Islands, now known as Tuvalu). When people start to arrive on the island, things become a little more complicated.

This is the book that launched Adolfo Bioy Casares’s career, despite being his seventh book. He remains a little obscure outside of Argentina, even though his friend Jorge Luis Borges is known to sing his praises. While this book is sometimes categorised as science fiction or fantasy, for me it reads like a psychological adventure story. Rather than focusing on a plot which is common in genre fiction, he prides himself in making the book plotless and almost formless. This is a unique style for a novel like this but helps explore the inner psyche of the narrator.

The way the novella is written leaves you constantly questioning the reliability of the narrator. This is done in many different ways, from the disease that is apparently effecting the island (symptoms seems to be similar to radiation poisoning) to the hallucinations the narrator experiences from food poisoning and just the bizarre nature of the novella as a whole. I found this to be an effective way to explore The Invention of Morel and the main protagonist. It was these psychological elements of the book that I ended up appreciating.

The Invention of Morel was written in a time where radiation has a hot topic. I do not know much about the history of radioactivity but I know Marie Curie died in 1934 from aplastic anaemia, which is believed to be brought on by exposure to radiation, then in the 1940s there was a race to perfect the nuclear bomb. This I believe had an effect on Bioy Casares’s novella and helped him explore the idea of dying which leads to the theme of waiting for his soul to pass on.

I have to add that the reason Louise Brooks was put on the cover of the edition I read was because Adolfo Bioy Casares wrote this novella as a reaction to the demise of her film career. Take that to mean what you will, I do not know anything about Brooks to be able to draw any connections between her life and the book. Also the illustrations were provided by Norah Borges, Jorge Luis Borges younger sister. I am so please to have read The Invention of Morel, it was such an enjoyable experience and this novella is something I will contemplate for years to come.