Tag Archives: Central Europe

Review: The Glass Room

The Glass Room Book Cover

The Glass Room
By Simon Mawer
Other Press LLC
October 2009
416pp

The Short of It:

The Glass Room is a sophisticated, highly stylized work of art.

The Rest of It:

In central Europe during the 1920’s, newlyweds, Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet acclaimed architect, Rainer von Abt. A modernist of his time, he agrees to build the them a house like no other. One designed with sharp angles, wide, open spaces and a room made of glass. Viktor, quite the modernist himself, is taken with the idea. A room made of glass? How exquisite. Liesel on the other hand, must be convinced. A house like this is not meant for a family, is it?

Once complete, the house is a work of art. Cement and steel and of course, the large glass panels that make up the glass room. As von Abt states:

A work of art like this demands that the life lived in it be a work of art as well.

The life lived within it is not a work of art though. Instead, there is a marriage placed crudely under a microscope where the reader is allowed to view all of its intricacies. There is love, much love but there is also rampant infidelity, lesbianism, and matters of race, religion and politics. Mawer places it all before you and then steps back, allowing the reader to be an observer in this experiment.

The writing is clinical, almost sterile yet sensual. Everyone in this novel is stripped bare. The characters, all of them, are complex creatures but we are reminded more than once that they are in fact, creatures and they often behave as animals do. Sometimes this is shocking because as you read, you feel as if you shouldn’t be sharing this intimate space with them. Yet, you cannot walk away.

Don’t be fooled by the Glass Room. It’s only as rational as the people who inhabit it.

Sharp and edgy, I found myself completely absorbed with the story. What makes it even more intriguing is that such a house exists. Villa Tugendhat is located in Brno in the Czech Republic and the inspiration behind The Glass Room. It was designed by Mies van der Rohe between 1928 and 1930. Although the story centers around this house, the rest of the story is a work of fiction.

Photo of Villa Tugendhat

I did not look at any of these photos prior to reading the book, but the house is exactly as I pictured it.

Photo #2 of Villa Tugendhat (interior shot)

With a large part of the novel centering around World War II, it’s no wonder that the words, sterile and antiseptic come to mind but in between the starkness, there is beauty. A lot of other reviewers did not care for the coldness of the characters. I didn’t see them as cold, but somewhat reserved depending on the situation. Formal, is probably a better word.

As formal as they were, the last page brought a tear to my eye. I wasn’t expecting to tear up but emotion overcame me and I found myself re-reading that last page over and over again.

The Glass Room was a finalist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and is one of my favorites for 2010. I highly recommend it.

Source: This review copy was sent to me by the publisher.

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