Top Ten Tuesday Shortlist

The Broke and Brookish suggestion to list books for a book club discussion had me reviewing my reading and thinking about what I would like to discuss.  One of my book clubs is about to reveal the list of books for 2017 at their annual luncheon in November; books are chosen by the person hosting the discussion but must be readily available in the library.  Another smaller group picks books bimonthly at the end of each meeting – sometimes newer books not yet in the library system and one none of us have read.  Constantly looking for another book to read, book lists are like candy to me.  I devour them instantly and want more.

Here is my short list (with links to my reviews)  but there are so many more…

Florence Gordon   by Brian Morton

The Many  by Wyl Menmuir

The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

Homegoing  by Yaa Gyasi

The Door by Magda Szabó

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The Door by Magda Szabó

9781590177716_p0_v2_s192x300Claire Messud’s review of the Hungarian translation of The Door by Magda Szabó in the New York Times prompted my reading, but I did not expect the powerful and captivating story.  Without much fanfare, the story has crept into my mind and lingers there.

The story follows the relationship of two women – Emerence, a strong-willed old woman who has come to manage the house of a prominent Hungarian writer, Magda, who later in the book wins Hungary’s most prestigious award, possibly the Kossuth Prize.  Emerence comes from the old school of hard work, saving money for her funeral, and voicing her opinions whether or not they have been solicited.  The writer, who nurses her own feelings of inadequacy, clashes with Emerence on everything – from morality to mortality.  They live in an uncomfortable truce until Emerence finally decides to reveal her history.

Tapping into Hungary’s strange political history (the novel was written in 1987 but just now making it to American publishing), Szabó weaves government tensions into the background, but the story focuses on the women, their differences and their mutual respect.  At times, I saw myself, my mother, fellow writers, friends, would-be friends – in the traits of Szabo’s characters.  The best character may be Viola, the dog.

The “door” is the front door of Emerence’s house – an entry that no one is privileged to enter.  When she talks of her treasures and her cats, at first she seems to be creating her own fantasy; however, later, the truth of her history and her possessions becomes clear.

The plot moves slowly, following Emerence and Magda to a final showdown with an ending true to characters, but leaving a sour taste and a cautious reminder that sometimes the strong can control events, even death.  I noted so many plums of wisdom; here are a few that linger in my mind:

She inspired trust because people knew they could open their hearts to her without expecting her own confidences in return…

Cheerfulness keeps you fresh; its opposite exhausts…

…her goodness was innate, mine was the result of upbringing…

Creativity requires a state of grace…

Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs, summarized the novel’s effect so well:

“A work of stringent honesty and delicate subtlety, “The Door” is a story in which, superficially, very little happens. Szabó’s narrator, like the author a writer named Magda (in interviews, Szabo suggested that the novel was only thinly veiled personal history), follows the intricacies of her intimate filial relationship with her housekeeper, Emerence. In doing so, it exposes the rich inadequacies of human communication even as it evokes the agonies of Hungary’s recent history.”

Related Reviews:

 

The Butler Did It

Ever wonder where the phrase – “the butler did it” – originated?

After Mary Roberts Rinehart used the butler as the villain in her 1930 mystery, The Door, critics ridiculed the idea that a servant could be the culprit in a murder – just too easy a solution. Since then, the phrase “the butler did it,” has been the cliché comedic solution to fictional murders. Rinehart never actually used the phrase and mystery writers now use the butler only as an obvious red herring.

In Walter and Peter Marks’s 1980s play, The Butler Did It, now popularly staged in local productions, every character is either named Butler or has been a butler. A community theater production nearby inspired me to look for some of Rinehart’s classics.

I’m now reading The Circular Staircase (for under two dollars on my Kindle). Using the “if I had only known” device, Rinehart withholds important information until revealing all in the end to solve the crime, but along the way, her careful plotting, Victorian prose, and clever heroine are keeping me entertained.

“I justified myself by reflecting that if the Armstrongs chose to leave pictures in unsafe positions, and to rent a house with a family ghost, the destruction of property was their responsibility, not mine…”

A crash in the night, half a cuff-link, a golf club, a gun in the tulip bed – I can’t wait to find out whodunit – this time the characters do not include a butler.