By Lorrie Beauchamp, August, 2012
What would you do if you were a retired, unattached male surrounded by beautiful women who, each in their own way, adored and needed you? Welcome to the world of Bluebeard’s Seventh Door — the witty fictional adventures of a middle-aged twice-divorced musicologist who, while dealing with the unwanted attentions of a wealthy “Femme Fatale”, falls under the spell of her housemaid Karin, an illegal immigrant with tales of woe from World War II.
Set in Montreal’s elite Westmount neighbourhood and peppered with references to classical music, this first-time novel by author André Vecsei is an “homage” to the duality of life, as made iconic by the Greek mask of comedy and tragedy. As a narrative, it is equally entertaining and enlightening, hilarious and heartbreaking. And although we never learn the name of our aging hero – a character whose need for attention competes with an equally strong need for solitude – it is easy to empathize with him as he manoeuvres through a maze of tricky social situations and colourful conversations.
The story is bold with graphic detail and successful in conveying the chaos of life as a series of daily choices. At the same time, it offers a unique perspective on the immigration tales all too familiar to post-war Canada, yet still powerfully significant to our multiethnic heritage. Told through the cautious, pragmatic voice of Karin, the erstwhile lover, we learn the sorrowful story of her family’s flight from the front lines of war-torn Yugoslavia – and the lingering duality of dreams and reality in a post-war world.
Meanwhile, our protagonist survives a series of escapades and encounters with teenage hooligans, aggressive dogs, anxious friends, frank sexual dalliances and, in one hilarious scene, the acquisition of a splinter in an unmentionable body part. We lean into our hero’s confusion and concern for humanity. We sense his compassion for the fairer sex, his disdain for bureaucracy, and his deep love of music as culture and intellectual comfort. In literary asides throughout the book, we hear his thoughts on an analytical level, like whispers from ghosts present and past.
The main character is full of hard-learned lessons, irascible wit and the requisite grumpiness of old men. He has time on his hands, women on his radar, and the willingness to be a good listener. He struggles to please everyone else while pleasing himself, and often (as is the case in real life) ends up pleasing no one. Like the operatic Bluebeard, each door he opens conceals a different aspect of his past. What lies behind the seventh door? Or, as the author seems to be saying with this cautionary tale, perhaps some doors are better left unopened.
Lorrie Beauchamp is a Montreal-based poet, journalist, freelance writer and business owner. Also a member of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, student of the Thomas More Institute, and co-founder of The Writers’ Bloc, a local literary group celebrating emerging English writers in French Quebec.