Another gem by Magda Szabo! It’s described by the Glasgow Herald as: “This melting pot of a novel hangs from a solid tripod of Greek myth, Biblical scripture and Slavic Fairy-tale…” It’s a good description and not over the top. It’s like a sumptuous dish – I’m thinking a bowl of Goulash with the rich flavours of beef, red-wine and paprika wafting from the steam.
The imagery throughout adds depth to the story and you can’t help lingering over it. Some little tasters:
“When I thought about it the pair of them at the table weren’t at all like a mistress giving her good little dog his reward, they were more like figures from a Greek myth, taking part in some horrific celebration. The roast meat the animal had snatched was only a semblance. It was more than food, it was a meal not for human witness, a tangle of viscera, a species of human sacrifice – as if Emerence were feeding the actual person to the dog, along with all her fond memories and feelings.”
Right from the beginning we’re told that the relationship between the narrator and Emerence is ill-fated and doomed: “Thus far I have lived my life with courage, and I hope to die that way, bravely and without lies. But for that to be, I must speak out. I killed Emerence. The fact that I was trying to save her rather than destroy her changes nothing.”
After this, we journey along, with these two women, prepared for the heart-ache to come. With the poignant, delicate writing and the hard-hitting imagery, even with the beginning statement issued, you find yourself still unprepared for how the journey will affect you. And over and over the narrator reminds us about the dangers of loving, her narration sounding like an oracle as old as time, issuing her warning again and again:
“…it was from this moment that Emerence truly loved me, loved me without reservation, gravely almost, like someone deeply conscious of the obligations of love, who knows it to be a dangerous passion fraught with risk…” And “In my student days I detested Schopenhauer only later did I come to acknowledge the force of his idea that every relationship involving personal feeling laid one open to attack and the more people I allowed to become close to me, the greater number of ways in which I was vulnerable.”
A beautiful read – and if I doubted it with just having read Iza’s Ballad, establishes her as one of my favourite writers.