Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai
I'm not sure what made me pick this up from the library. I've got a vague recollection of hearing/reading about it somewhere, but I really can't remember where. I do know why I picked it up to read though. Simply because it was short, and after the 567 pages that was Alone in Berlin, something short was what I wanted.
Esther's Inheritance is a strange little novel, where the action takes place over a 24 hour period in Esther's life. We start with Esther receiving a communication that Lajos, her old flame is returning for a visit, after a fifteen year silence. It soon becomes clear that Esther has never stopped loving this man, although the circumstances of their relationship and separation are drip fed throughout the book. It is also clear that Lajos is a rogue and a scoundrel, and has done Esther nothing but harm over the years. Esther lives with Nunu, who's immediate response on hearing Lajos is returning is
"'Good,' she said 'I will lock up the silver'"
The first half of this book is concerned with Esther's reminiscences on the past, and what happened and how her life has panned out, all tied to the common thread that her love for Lajos was all encompassing, and although she was content, she was never really happy. In the second half, when Lajos is actually present Esther eventually challenges him about everything he is and does, but she immediately capitulates to his will, with ease and resignation.
Throughout this little book, it becomes apparent how much Esther has been cheated and let down by the people in her life. Events and actions are constantly mentioned that add more layers to the way she has been treated, but also the way she has let herself be treated. Esther is no fool, she is very aware that Lajos is only returning because he wants something, however, she is totally passive and appears to have been throughout her whole life. She never seems to have fought back, just accepted what had happened to her, even when she was left with her ex-lover's children (children borne by her sister). This passivity continues as Lajos eventually walks away with everything he came for, with a capitulation from Esther with both ease and resignation.
There is a sense of inevitability from the beginning, and lots of discussion to be had about the character of people and how character traits can impact on relationships. But mainly, it's about inevitability and acceptance, as Esther says herself
"I knew Lajos had come because he had no choice, and that we were welcoming him because we had no choice, and the whole thing was as terrifying, as unpleasant, and as unavoidable for him as it was for us.”
It's difficult to say what I liked about this book, it was more about the way it made me feel whilst reading it, than the actual plot. I like the way the information was leaked out in snippets through the story, and the way the layers build to provide a complete story by the conclusion. The story gave me lots to think about, including is love forever, does it matter what you do if your intentions are honourable (Lajos' argument), and could Esther have fought back against Lajos in any way? As well as many other things. So it was thought provoking. But the writing itself was like curling up in bed when you're really tired. Just so comforting and like there is no other place I would rather be. I'd recommend it just for that.
"But the wind, the end of September wind that had until then been snapping at the walls of the house, suddenly tore open the window, billowed through the curtains, and, as if it were bringing news, touched and shifted everything in the room. Then it blew out the candle flame. I still remember that. And remember also, though only vaguely, that at some stage Nunu closed the window, and I fell asleep."