The Door by Magda Szabo, printed through NYRB, was a challenging read for me. Not so much of the intellectual depth or the story itself, but rather the "relationship" between the two main women. Magda is a successful writer who is married and lives an affluent lifestyle. Due to the pressures of her and her husband's lives, they decide to hire Emerence, an older woman living in their village, as their housekeeper. Right from the beginning, Emerence comes across as a brash, unapologetic, and illiterate woman who could care less about the world. She has her small number of friends, her house filled with cats that no one may enter, and her housekeeping duties. Whenever someone tries to show compassion toward her, she lashes out with vitriolic words or she suddenly turns to stone and refuses to speak as punishment to the one who offended her. Yet, even with her bristling manner, Emerence shows her form of love toward Magda and Magda feels honoured to be the recipient of such a rare emotion.
I won't give all of the story away but like I said earlier, this was a challenging read for me. Although everyone seemed to eventually forgive Emerence for her ways, I found myself wondering about her power. Even when Magda tells her off and walks away, she is later wracked with guilt over what's she said to Emerence and then later feels that she deserved it. Everyone in the town knows of Emerence and willingly give her power to remain the same and never change. In all honesty, I wanted to stop reading the book several times yet I felt compelled to read it to see how it would end. I had to see how far the relationship between the two women would go. She refused care when people discovered that she had had a stroke and was living in filth. When someone tried to visit her, she yelled at them to go away and leave her alone. When Magda and her husband finally accepted Emerence's gift of a little dog statue, Emerence dusted it then threw it to the ground, causing it to shatter - this act later lead to peace in the household for quite some time. When a friend of hers committed suicide, Emerence advised Magda that she wouldn't have stopped her - if her friend was still lonely after being cared for and fed, then apparently she wanted to die. Sometimes, those who have nothing to lose can become the mirror of the world - they show the weakness of humanity in a truthful light with no apologies. Perhaps that was Emerence's job but then again, I know she wouldn't have cared less.