As I run along my routine jogging trail from middle-class NDG in Montreal, up the hill into the Westmount maze of mansions, I often catch myself staring at the wealthy estates, some I should call castles… Spacious gardens colored with exotic flowers, vine-covered walls… The gargoyles from various rooftops offer me stoic, petrified greetings as I pass… And then there are the doors – massive, ornate, some secured with gold or bronze hinges – great portals that insulate all within from the outside world… Yet I can’t help but wonder who lives inside? What exactly would one find behind these doors?
Andre Vecsei’s Bluebeard’s Seventh Door is set in 1970s Montreal and post WW II Yugoslavia. The novel begins with the protagonist, an accomplished musicologist, attending the funeral of “the Femme Fatale” – a Westmount socialite. This protagonist remains nameless throughout the novel which ads to his enigmatic charm. The story-telling emulates the structure of an unfolding musical opera – Bartok’s one act Bluebeard’s Castle – where Bluebeard is forced by his lover Judith to slowly open, one by one, seven forbidden castle doors – each a portal to a realm that explores a new facet of the human condition. In the end, Bluebeard is confronted with the ghosts and the wives of his past…
Similarly, in Vecsei’s novel, the funeral serves as a catalyst that begins opening the “seven doors” of the musicologist’s psyche. We discover his true nature through the interwoven mesh of characters in the Femme Fatale’s entourage, namely the protagonist’s lover and muse – Karin, the maid. She is a Croatian immigrant who serves as the bridge between the Montreal and Yugoslav storylines. She is his Judith, his Duenna, his Lolita… At least for now.
The musicologist is an outsider, a twice-divorced loner, self-exiled onto the bridge that spans two disparate worlds – ‘New North America’ and ‘Old Europe’. He never fails to comment on the maelstrom of colliding cultures and ideologies that surround him. As an intellectual hedonist who weaves his way in and out of the Femme Fatale’s social network, he is primarily selfish, yet he has fits of altruism that trap him in the most absurd of initiatives, such as agreeing to volunteer at a sexology crisis hotline, or helping Karin save a mongrel street dog from its dark fate of Euthanasia… The relationship between Karin and her senior musicologist lover is an entertaining, moody, warm-cold affair, filled with delightful witty, socio-political repartees. For example, a conflict over removing a splinter lodged in the protagonist’s behind leads Karin to push him into clarifying his political stance:
Karin: “ You would never make a revolutionary, not even a reformer. You will always remain a preserver…
Musicologist: “You mean I opt for the status-quo…”
K: “What is status-quo?”
M: “Reaching for balance by keeping the existing state unchanged.”
K: “Oh, yes, I read that somewhere about the division of Germany… You are a status-quo man…”
Vecsei’s novel is a dark comedy, a very clever satire that pokes fun at both high-brow and low-brow society, yet it remains grounded in the tragedy of post WW II trauma – a trauma that inevitably is past down onto the next generation… This is most evident in the female characters of the story: they are first and foremost – survivors.
Vecsei’s descriptive writing engages the reader’s senses – from flies copulating at the funeral, to palpable Epicurean passages from the musicologist’s numerous feasts… This is not a book to read on an empty stomach! But most evocative of all are the symphonic metaphors that punctuate the inter-personal conflicts throughout the chapters. Vecsei’s musical language reveals the personalities of his characters like the conductor of a refined orchestra. To me, the style of the novel is reminiscent of Nabokov, a refreshing change from the fast-paced novels in the Dan Brown genre. It also made me ponder the tragi-comedy of today’s lust for fast-food communication and instant gratification – where Twitters, Tweets, Crackberries, and Facebook threaten to permanently suffocate the art of classical music, conversation, and enjoying face-to-face contact. Today, we are given countless options to become ‘connected’ in the virtual world, yet so many become utterly disconnected with themselves and their cultural heritage.
… The loud honking of cars on the traffic-infested Decarie Expressway breaks the calm spell of Westmount’s magic doors and castles as I descend the hill marking the end of my routine jogging run. As I turn to offer my final goodbye to a distant gargoyle perched over a massive mansion door, I hear the score of Bartok and the voice of Vecsei’s musicologist – reminding us that when the opera of our lives comes to an end… and we arrive at that Seventh Door… If we dare open it, what would we see?
Bluebeard’s Seventh Door was published posthumously by Andre’s wife, Eva. For more information about the novel, one may visit: http://bluebeard.micro.org/