Title: The Glass Room
Author: Simon Mawer
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
It’s the 1920’s in Czechoslovakia, and Viktor and Liesel Landauer are newlyweds. They want to build a beautiful home to raise their children in, a place they can call their own. They meet with a famous architect who builds them an incredibly unique and striking home. Ultra-modern, it’s made mostly of glass and has a pure onyx wall. Viktor and Liesel settle down in their brand new house, thinking they are safe from the world, but they will be tested by infidelity, disloyalty, and the horrors of World War II.
The Glass Room isn’t about a room at all, but a house that manages to stand the test of time, the ravages of war and uncertainty of peace. The story of the people who live in that house, from its glorious beginnings on, make up the meat of the novel, but it is the house itself that is its frame. In that way, the Landauer house is actually its own character in the book, living, breathing and growing dynamically as it adapts to its change in circumstances. It becomes something different for everyone who occupies it, molding itself to suit their needs and wishes.
This book is also about the contrast between darkness and light. The Landauer house is made of glass, exposed for all to see, yet there is much darkness hidden within those who live and work in it. The secrets of the glass house’s occupants dampen its brightness. Additionally, the coming of World War II and all the despair it will bring casts a shadow over the house. But through it all, the glass house remains, a beacon of light and hope in the darkest times.
Liesel Landauer is arguably the central character of the book (besides the house, of course), as much of The Glass Room is taken by her story. She is a sharp, sensitive woman who is ahead of her time. Along with her best friend Hana, she defies social conventions, living on her own terms. Though she experiences plenty of sadness and tragedy in her life, Liesel is a strong, hopeful woman who never allows what is going on around her to dampen her spirits or mold her into what she is expected to be.
Though The Glass Room is set during the years surrounding World War II, it’s not your typical World War II novel. It’s much more about the people, and how they get through each day, than the overarching events of the time. Politics definitely plays a role in this book, especially since Viktor Landauer is Jewish, but it’s much more about how circumstances affect these individual characters and the house than about the war,
The Glass Room was a well-written novel that spans sixty years in the life of a house. It’s a breathtaking work of fiction, and it’s completely understandable why it was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. If you’re interested in symbolic novels that are heavily character-driven, I’d definitely pick this book up.