Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Szabó

In Which I Review Magda Szabó’s “Abigail.”

Hello! I hope you’re well. I’ve read four books this week but I’m only reviewing one today for time-reasons. I’ll review two of the others next week, along with a surprise book.

Abigail, By Magda Szabó, Translated by Len Rix

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[…] through one of the opened windows a tune could be heard, a tune coming from somewhere down in Matula Street, at the front of the building. It was a repeated triple blast on a motor horn, a motor horn on which, in a far-off world, a happier world across the oceans, a world beyond the Seven Seas, a father was sending a message to his daughter. Gina my child, Gina my child, the motor horn called out merrily each time he pressed it. Gina my child, ran the cheerful refrain, again and again, ever more insistently, until it seemed not in the least happy or merry but appallingly, overwhelmingly sad.”

In Abigail, 11-year-old Gina is sent to a boarding school by her widower father. She is sad because she misses him and doesn’t understand why he has to send her away. In actuality, he is sending her away because it’s World War II, he is an underground fighter trying to get the German army out of Hungary, and he doesn’t want his enemies to use Gina against him if he gets captured. So begins the story of Gina fighting her classmates and trying to run away, until she learns about her father’s secret and has to grow up. And maybe if she prays to that mysterious statue called Abigail, things will get better.

This book was good. I felt very invested in the characters, especially Gina. Even though she could have easily been portrayed as an unsympathetic brat, Szabó was somehow able to avoid this trap. Apparently, understanding a bratty-seeming character’s motives enough results in her not being so bratty. That was great.

The story itself was well-written. The book-jacket described it as a cross between Harry Potter and Jane Austen’s Emma. The book was compelling like Harry Potter was. However, there was very, very obvious foreshadowing about the story’s central mystery.

As I was reading, I was wondering about this foreshadowing– did the author really expect readers not to figure out the mystery? Would the entire book just be a build-up to revealing the mystery’s solution, even though it was made obvious early on? Yes.

That made the book feel anticlimactic, and the explicit giving away of the ending earlier on also meant there were no other mysteries to wonder about.

Maybe I’m just getting jaded from reading so much and becoming good at guessing plot-points early, so don’t take my review as the absolute truth about how obvious the foreshadowing was. The story itself was still very entertaining (there’s a reason this is a very popular book in Hungary), so I’d still recommend it.

Have you read this book? Ever have an interesting experience with authorial foreshadowing? Comment below!