“I didn’t like my own secrets. I liked other people’s even less.”

Writen in 1987, this novel charting the relationship between a  successful writer and her housekeeper, Emerence, perhaps draws many parallels with Szabó’s own life, after her rehabilitation by the Hungarian authorities in 1959. Both Magda and her husband are busy writers, but this being the 1960s of course it falls to Magda to organise the arrangement of domestic tasks; her husband, who is suffering from severe ill health, is little more than  shadowy presence in the background throughout. Emerence herself has more in common with characters from Greek mythology, due to her bizarre idiosyncrasies and frankly quite absurd behaviour and demands. As the years pass and the two women form a strange and intense bond, we learn more about Emerence’s past and the secrets that are concealed behind her door.

If you are new to Hungarian literature, Magda Szabó (1917-2007) would be an excellent starting point.

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