Caroline Moorehead

The Garden Party

Esther’s Inheritance


Picador 224pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

‘I don’t know what God has in store for me.’ So opens Sandor Marai’s fourth novel to be translated into English, Esther’s Inheritance. Whatever else, the reader knows that what God has in store will be nothing good: Márai, one of the most popular Hungarian writers of the interwar years, is the master of unfulfilled desires, of secrets betrayed and hopes dashed.

Esther, a middle-aged but not unattractive spinster, lives in genteel poverty with her elderly cousin and companion Nunu in an unspecified small town somewhere in what was once Austria–Hungary. The date is probably the mid-1930s: there are cars, but they are not common. One of Márai’s touches is to cast his characters in a vaguely defined limbo, a backwater where little happens and where the sounds of the world’s chaos arrive late and dimly. The two women, who survive by running their small garden as a business, are expecting a visitor. More than fiction, Esther’s Inheritance reads like theatre, a nineteenth-century Russian play set on a country estate far from Moscow, among people yearning for something they believe might make them happy.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,