The Glass Room – Simon Mawer


I have just loved reading The Glass Room this week. It’s a book to be read slowly if possible although it’s tempting to rush ahead, the chapters are short, the writing elegant and understated as well as sensual, gripping and tragic.

Simon Mawer’s eighth novel was short listed for the Booker prize in 2009 – the winner being Hilary Mantel with Wolf Hall. My thoughts after finishing The Glass Room are that Wolf Hall must be absolutely fantastic to have taken the prize. Not that I have any book judging credentials and of course it’s all subjective but I’m going to make the effort to read Wolf Hall to satisfy my curiosity. I have it on kindle but have been a bit intimidated by the size of it.

I first heard of The Glass Room with this excellent review by Tom at A Common Reader. I thought then that it sounded wonderful and it really is. So much so that I knew after the first couple of pages I would love it and so much so that I gave up trying to remember things to write about it later and just fell into reading it.

Set mostly in 1930’s Czechoslovakia, the Glass Room is the name of a house and the term is used loosely and is open to interpretation depending on the language used (Czech or German). There is nothing loose about the actual house and it is in fact the anchor for all that happens to its various inhabitants throughout the following years. It is the one constant in a time of upheaval and devastation in Czechoslovakia and throughout Europe, reflecting the changing times and attitudes of the people that pass through it.

Viktor and Liesel Landauer are honeymooning in Venice in 1929 when a chance meeting with a German architect results in a commission. He will build them their dream home, a forward thinking functionalist style building, without conventional walls, filled with glass and a stunning onyx wall. A house for the future; minimalist, free of ornament and association with the past. This house whilst ridiculed at first is soon claimed a masterpiece, the Glass Room becomes host to gatherings and recitals – the Launder’s are a wealthy family and for a time life seems good although times are changing.

Viktor is Jewish and eventually the Landauer’s are forced to flee their home, friends and family to seek exile abroad. They must leave their precious home to its fate and await their own. The fate of the characters, of their home, is such that by the end of the book it really does seem like many years have passed and much has changed.

Just a beautiful book on so many levels. There is a lot I have left out including some factual details about Mawer’s inspiration for The Glass Room and other crucial characters and details. Plenty to discover. As the saying goes ‘read it and weep’ – it had that effect on me.

2009, 404 pages

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8 responses to “The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

  1. I loved this book too. I agree about it being a beautiful book on so many levels – I feel as though I could re-read this book many times and always discover something new. I’m looking forward to reading his new book soon.

    • Jackie – I’m really looking forward to reading his new book too. The subject of that one appeals. I’m excited too that he has written several other books. I’ve seen Swimming to Ithaca at the library so might try that soon too.

  2. Great review! I’ve had a copy of this book on my shelf for ages, and you’ve made me want to dig it out to read it now!

    • Anna – thank you! I hope you enjoy it as much as me, I’ve got a feeling you will and look forward to checking out your review soon hopefully!

  3. You really put me in the mood to read this as well. I was never so sure about it before but now I think I would like it very much. I have Wolf Hall here. I heard it’s very good but books are such a personal thing, it’s quite possible Mawer works far better for you.

  4. Caroline – you’re right, books are so personal aren’t they? I would love to read your thoughts on The Glass Room as well. SImon Mawer works beautifully with snippets of German and Czech which are sprinkled throughout the book -so much depends on translation and interpretation. I think you will really enjoy it.

  5. I really loved The Glass Room, it is a fantastic book. You might like to look at Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck if you haven’t read it, as there are a few similarities between them.
    Also, you’re right, Wolf Hall is great too!

  6. Pingback: A Book Sanctuary

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