A Dark and Comic read: Bluebeard’s Seventh Door

By Alan Hustak September, 2012 Published in

The Métropolitian

Sex, guilt, music, Serbian-Croatian politics and the atrocities committed by the fascist  Croatian Ustasha revolutionary movement during the Second World War figure prominently in Bluebeard’s Seventh Door, Andre Vecsei ‘s didactic novel which his wife has published posthumously. The title comes from one of the author’s favourite operas by Bartok  in which pentatonic chords reminded him of “The antagonism between men and women.”

Vecsei, a  Montreal architect who died of cancer six years ago  could never quite forget  the horrors he endured growing up in Budapest during the Second World War  when his native Hungary was under the influence of Nazi Germany,  As a Roman Catholic teenager, Vecsei was a caught by the Gestapo trying to obtain false identification papers for one of his Jewish friends.  Lined up before a firing squad with others who were shot, his  life was spared, presumably because  he was still a kid. As an adult he was an insomniac who apparently wrote the book over a number of years to stave off nightmares.

From its very beginning at a funeral in 1975 for a socialite identified as the femme fatale, until its epilogue in California, it is a dark, sometimes funny, sarcastic read that capitalises on the elements of random chance.  At  its centre is a  twice-divorced  musicologist who is conducting a love affair with a Croatian maid who happens to be an illegal immigrant, and who like Scheherazade, captivates him with her stories.  The protagonist is a mass of contradictions, and early on  tells us “he want us to be thought provoking without being provocative. ” So we get any number of aphorisms such as “ Creationists are not necessarily athiests,” or “Lawyers are today what doctors were in the time of Moliere.”

The tale is front loaded with characters straight out of cold war movies, and it is distractingly academic and often cerebral at times. Vecsei has a jaundiced view of war and espionage in which men often do the wrong thing for good reason. He writes tellingly of ethnic lunacy in the post war Balkans, pointing out that “well deserved punishment went hand in hand with paranoid vengeance, and ethnic prejudice was called patriotism, fanatics were called trustworthy, and cruel butchers were called committed guards of the revolution. It was madness all right, because the hatred of the Serbs was justified, only there was no time and no way to be selective.”

Vecsei is at his best describing  the musicians sexploits, especially a  licentiouis lecture tour in New York state. He returns to discover that his  Schererazade, has run away with a colleague and  learns the end of her story from a “a fat old  fabulist” .

Publishing an unedited manuscript after a man has died  is not without its shortcomings. One can only wonder what changes Vecsei  or an editor might have made to the text.  As it stands, while some readers  will find much to admire in the writing, others may feel  being inside the author’s  head a little too demanding.