The Door: On keeping your house, and letting others go

I’m reading “The Door” by Magda Szabo, a book from the 1980s that was only recently translated from Hungarian into English.

So far, a great slice of life from that country, and that period (inclusive of the decades leading up to it) centered around an educated writer and the eccentric and opinionated anti-intellectual woman who becomes her housekeeper. Great tastes of “peasant” perspective vs. educated citizenry during tumult in Eastern Europe. Their relationship is wonderful in its complexity and its mutual challenges.

Anyway, I’ve been poor at recording favorite things about books as I read them, so here are a few snippets of lovely language and concepts I wanted to save (all emphasis mine).

On Keeping Your House As You like

“So extreme was the overall impression created by the apartment that our visitors reacted in one of two ways. Either they were paralysed with amazement, or they were overcome with laughter. Even the walls of our kitchen were something else. Instead of wallpaper or paint, we had oilcloth covered in squirrels, geese and other poultry.

Most of our visitors were artists. For them, the place was a familiar world of gentle lunacy. My ultra-correct relatives, with no fantasy life of their own, I had written off long ago.”

On Letting Others Go

The housekeeper, Emerence, explaining herself after the writer is shocked to realize Emerence knew their elder mutual friend Polett was going to commit suicide after years of feeling lost:

“Have you ever killed an animal?”

I said I had never killed anything.

“You will. You’ll put Viola [their dog] down. You’ll have him injected when the time comes. Try to understand. When the sands run out for someone, don’t stop them going. You can’t give them anything to replace life. Do you think I didn’t love Polett? That it meant nothing to me when she’d had enough and wanted out? It’s just that, as well as love, you also have to know know how to kill.”

 

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