As a regular book browser, or shelf stalker, and former employee of Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, I’ve recently watched several customers come in asking for recommendations of what to read next after finishing Italian novelist Elena Ferrante’s four-volume saga, The Neapolitan Quartet — a masterwork concerning issues of class, status, and the remarkable complexity of female friendship, set on the fringe of an economically depressed Naples. I also had been wondering what I myself would find to read and recommend to friends to quench the Ferrante Fever. As if the book gods heard my call, I nearly simultaneously received a long letter and gift from an old friend in the mail the other day. I’d recommended she read Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. In return she sent along a beautiful recommendation of deceased Hungarian novelist, Magda Szabó’s The Door, a novel that also explores the complex and unsettling nature of friendship between two women who couldn’t be more different:
She was nowhere to be seen, either in the apartment when I awoke, or in the street when I set off for the hospital; but there was evidence of her handiwork in the section of pavement outside the front door swept clean of snow. Obviously, I told myself in the car, she was making her rounds at the other houses. I wasn’t distressed, or heartbroken. I felt that only good news awaited me at the hospital, as indeed it did. I was out until lunchtime. Arriving home, rather hungry, I was sure she’d be sitting there in the apartment, awaiting my return. I was wrong. I was faced with the disconcerting experience of walking into my own home, bearing news of life and death, and no-one to share it with. Our Neanderthal ancestor learned to weep the first time he stood in triumph over the bison he had dragged in and found no-one to tell of his adventures, or show his spoils to, or even his wounds. The apartment stood empty. I went into one room after another, looking for her, even calling out her name. I didn’t want to believe that, on this of all days, when she didn’t even know if my patient was alive or dead, she could be somewhere else. The snow had stopped falling. There could be nothing in the street requiring her attention. And yet she was nowhere to be found.