Esther's Inheritance is now the fifth Sandor Marai novel I have read, and this also happens to be the total number of novels (as of this writing) that has been translated into English. All I can say is that I hope the translations continue, as I don’t think there’s much this man cannot do within his literary realm. Marai is one of those writers that focuses on the intricacies of human relationships — assessing and dissecting motives, presenting flaws and arguing for them, then arguing against them, and leaving some conclusions answered and others open. His writing is muscular and poetic, lean and intricate. His men are often too proud and his women too willing, yet the relationships are complex and the tension is taut.
These intricacies among individuals can no better be demonstrated than in his most recently published novel, Portraits of a Marriage. In it, Marai presents multiple perspectives of the multiple relationships among the characters. In Embers, he presents long dialogue digressions between two men at a dinner table, as they discuss the shared affection for a woman. Esther's Inheritance is well within the Marai universe, only this time it involves an old woman named Esther who has had a twenty year relationship with a man she knows to be a pathological liar. Yet, this “relationship” is actually one of unrequited love, because throughout that time, her love interest has not been present in her life. Thus, what exists between them is primarily in the past, or the more obvious place that is her mind.
Right away readers are presented with something interesting — the idea that even a relationship that lives in the past is still a relationship if one chooses to make it so. Before seeing Lajos, Esther has come to accept there is no present in her life for him, for why would he have abandoned her, if he really cared for her? Upon his return, Esther is nervous, but feels more alive than she’s felt in years. She notices Lajos’ affected behavior, his need to impress, to constantly feel like his life is a theatre. She notices elements about him that she might not have noticed in her youth. Yet, are the years enough to keep her from him?
Once Lajos begins to assert his power over Esther in his subtle and charming way, he does so very cunningly, but so much so that readers could easily be drawn in by his reasons. Once the two meet face to face, there is an excellent dialogue exchange between them, where she accuses him of lies, and he admits he has struggled with morality. Here his manipulation can be witnessed: