If you’ve felt that you’re reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, The Door will prompt you to reconsider. It’s astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long, a realization that raises once again the question of what other gems we’re missing out on. The dismaying discussion of how little translated work is available in the United States must wait for another venue; suffice it to say that I’ve been haunted by this novel. Szabo’s lines and images come to my mind unexpectedly, and with them powerful emotions. It has altered the way I understand my own life.
As in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, Szabó is writing about a writer who despite domestic and other difficulties—some of which are historical predicaments that affect domestic life—is trying to write, and like those books, The Door revolves around the relationship of two women, one of whom is telling the story and may or may not be a reliable narrator ... To read it is to feel turned inside out—as if our own foibles have been written in soap on the mirror, to be read when we wake up from the trance of our own self-importance ... The Door is a bone-shaking book. At moments of crisis—-one involves an actual bolt of lightning, another, the consumption of a stupefying meal—the reader experiences a sensory ricochet.
It won’t do to say much more about the plot of the book, first because the rather white-knuckled experience of reading it depends largely on Szabó’s finely calibrated parceling out of information, and second because the plot, although it conveys the essence of the book, is a conveyance only, to which the essence—in this case a penumbra of reflections, questions, and sensations—clings ... The narrator’s tone of controlled exasperation—the feeling that within the pages there’s an insufficient margin of comfort—is elegantly expressed in the wonderful translation by Len Rix. It’s as though the story must at all costs be dragged from the darkness, and at times the brittle precision and airlessness create an atmosphere that’s feverishly hallucinatory and even horribly comic.