Tag Archives: Simon Mawer

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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Friday Finds: The Glass Room

The Glass Room

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Friday Finds

Friday Finds is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer are filled with the optimism and cultural vibrancy of central Europe of the 1920s when they meet modernist architect Rainer von Abt. He builds for them a home to embody their exuberant faith in the future, and the Landauer House becomes an instant masterpiece.  Viktor and Liesel, a rich Jewish mogul married to a thoughtful, modern gentile, pour all of their hopes for their marriage and budding family into their stunning new home, filling it with children, friends, and a generation of artists and thinkers eager to abandon old-world European style in favor of the new and the avant-garde.

But as life intervenes, their new home also brings out their most passionate desires and darkest secrets. As Viktor searches for a warmer, less challenging comfort in the arms of another woman, and Liesel turns to her wild, mischievous friend Hana for excitement, the marriage begins to show signs of strain. The radiant honesty and idealism of 1930 quickly evaporate beneath the storm clouds of World War II. As Nazi troops enter the country, the family must leave their old life behind and attempt to escape to America before Viktor’s Jewish roots draw Nazi attention, and before the family itself dissolves.

The Glass Room was a finalist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. I am thinking about pitching it to my book group for our yearly book selection meeting. What do you think? Has anyone read it? I’d be interested in your thoughts.