The Glass Room

The Glass Room

by Simon Mawer

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590513965
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 10/27/2009
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 225,835
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.37(d)

About the Author

Simon Mawer was born in England and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus, and in Malta. His previous novels include The Fall (winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize), The Gospel of Judas, and Mendel's Dwarf (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize). He now lives in Italy with his wife and teaches at St. George's British International School in Rome.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why are the Landauers so devoted to modernity? What makes them so intent on shedding the past, and how is this tied to their country's history or future? 

2. What was your first impression of Rainer von Abt? What did you think of his minimalist approach? Why do you think it appealed to Liesel and Viktor?

3. The characters are constantly fluctuating between languages-specifically German and Czech. How do these characters use or manipulate language to express themselves?

4. During the housewarming party at the Glass Room, von Abt speaks of his masterpiece, saying, "A work of art like this demands that the life lived in it be a work of art as well." Do you think this prophecy comes to fruition?

5. Why does Viktor initially approach Kata in Vienna? What is he looking for in her? How is she different from Liesel?

6. The Glass Room takes on many personas throughout the book, moving from a home to a laboratory to a gymnasium to a museum. Does the original concept of the house remain intact through all of its internal transformations? Does the house ever become part of the past?

7. Do you believe that Viktor is in love with both Liesel and Kata? Does he fall for Kata before or after she comes to live with the family? What does the scene at the train station reveal about both him and Liesel?

8. Coincidence plays an important role in the novel. Does the Glass Room encourage it? If so, how?

9. Why do you think Hana agrees to be examined by Stahl and his crew? Why do you think the house is seen as an ideal place for a scientific laboratory?

10. What image or scene within the novel haunted or stayed with you the most?

11. Tomáš, much like Viktor, is always looking toward the future. But with yet another love triangle in the Glass Room-this time between Zdenka, Tomáš, and Eve-do things really change in this society obsessed with the future? Can history be erased if it is constantly being repeated?

12. What is Hana searching for in all of her love affairs? Do you think she is truly in love with Zdenka? Is it the Glass Room's influence or is Zdenka just a replacement for Liesel?

13. When Hana and Liesel are reunited at the novel's end, both women gloss over the tragedies in their past. Why do you think they hold back?

14. Does The Glass Room tell the story of a house or a family? What story do you think Mawer set out to tell?

15. Mawer constantly shifts the perspective from character to character, often leaving the reader wanting more. Which character's outcome or emotions did you wish you knew more about by the novel's end-Katalin's? Von Abt's? Viktor's? Stahl's? Oskar's?

16. Why do you think Mawer chose to conclude the book with Ottilie and Maria reuniting? What, if anything, does this new generation represent?

Foreword

1. Why are the Landauers so devoted to modernity? What makes them so intent on shedding the past, and how is this tied to their country's history or future? 

2. What was your first impression of Rainer von Abt? What did you think of his minimalist approach? Why do you think it appealed to Liesel and Viktor?

3. The characters are constantly fluctuating between languages-specifically German and Czech. How do these characters use or manipulate language to express themselves?

4. During the housewarming party at the Glass Room, von Abt speaks of his masterpiece, saying, "A work of art like this demands that the life lived in it be a work of art as well." Do you think this prophecy comes to fruition?

5. Why does Viktor initially approach Kata in Vienna? What is he looking for in her? How is she different from Liesel?

6. The Glass Room takes on many personas throughout the book, moving from a home to a laboratory to a gymnasium to a museum. Does the original concept of the house remain intact through all of its internal transformations? Does the house ever become part of the past?

7. Do you believe that Viktor is in love with both Liesel and Kata? Does he fall for Kata before or after she comes to live with the family? What does the scene at the train station reveal about both him and Liesel?

8. Coincidence plays an important role in the novel. Does the Glass Room encourage it? If so, how?

9. Why do you think Hana agrees to be examined by Stahl and his crew? Why do you think the house is seen as an ideal place for a scientific laboratory?

10. What image or scene within the novel haunted or stayed with you the most?

11.Tomáš, much like Viktor, is always looking toward the future. But with yet another love triangle in the Glass Room-this time between Zdenka, Tomáš, and Eve-do things really change in this society obsessed with the future? Can history be erased if it is constantly being repeated?

12. What is Hana searching for in all of her love affairs? Do you think she is truly in love with Zdenka? Is it the Glass Room's influence or is Zdenka just a replacement for Liesel?

13. When Hana and Liesel are reunited at the novel's end, both women gloss over the tragedies in their past. Why do you think they hold back?

14. Does The Glass Room tell the story of a house or a family? What story do you think Mawer set out to tell?

15. Mawer constantly shifts the perspective from character to character, often leaving the reader wanting more. Which character's outcome or emotions did you wish you knew more about by the novel's end-Katalin's? Von Abt's? Viktor's? Stahl's? Oskar's?

16. Why do you think Mawer chose to conclude the book with Ottilie and Maria reuniting? What, if anything, does this new generation represent?

Customer Reviews

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The Glass Room 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room Simon Mawer The author has captured the time in Europe, just after World War I when hopes were high for the future, straight through the ensuing decades when hopes were dashed; time travels seamlessly through World War II with the ultimate Communist take-over of several countries and then across the ocean to America, where the future is being made and some ultimately find safety from the turmoil, death and destruction overseas. The book spans almost 7 decades as we travel with the Landauers through their memories and those of the people who touched their lives in the house they had built for themselves, which represented a hopeful future, without encumbrances, where everyone would be free and life would be transparent. The house is the connection for all of the characters as it is the repository of those memories. Eventually the "glasraum" (the glass room which is the central part of the house.architecturally beautiful and without artifice), brings the survivors all full circle, back to the beginning of the history of the house, where the memories were made and connects it to a time in 1990. Socialism has proven to be a total failure.and the house has been restored to its former glory. As the pages turned, I found myself holding my breath, finding it very hard to read, as the fear and anger of the times, coupled with other varied emotions, assaulted my senses with every word and every image the author created. The apparent apathy and ignorance of the populace was unnerving. They were sitting ducks when the enemy finally pounced. They were totally unprepared for the evil that befell them and those that escaped the evil, turned a blind eye so as not to let it touch them. The emotional distance from which they viewed the hardships around them was hard to contemplate without fury at their complacence. It is ironic that the Glass Room was built to represent art, form and transparency at a time when the most duplicitous evil ruler rose to power. Rather than the high form of beauty, represented by the house, horror rose out of Germany and spread its disease across Europe. The characters, places and circumstances are introduced and then simply disappear, in much the same way as people disappeared and circumstances changed, during World War II. One moment they were all right and the next, they were never seen again. Hitler's evil and his takeover of power was subtle and deceitful. With very few nightmarish explanations and very little horrifying imagery, the author definitely evokes the horror, injustice, fear, treachery and all other aspects of World War II. It is not your typical Holocaust novel since it is about so much more. but it sheds light on that era with amazing clarity and shows the progression of society over the following decades.
bornok More than 1 year ago
An incredible read. Great plot. Outstanding writing. Reminds one of Sophie's Choice in its pace and development. Not surprising that it won the Booker Prize.
tumbledry More than 1 year ago
I loved the language of this book. I really anticipated a rich, deep story of history, architecture, and love. I wanted to love the story...it built and grew to something I anticipated to be wonderful. At some point the author decided that this was a story of some people, mixed up in a political mess, living in a really awesome house. Then the house was not connected and we were reading about a lesbian woman, a boring family and a prostitute and her daughter. Close to the end the author introduces us to some uninteresting characters who are only needed to make a plot point, but are needed for nothing else. I am still trying to figure out why the obsession with public hair in the 2nd half of the book...
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In the late 1920's, Czech honeymooners Viktor and Liesel Landauer consider themselves part of the new, vibrant European philosophy of liberal thought focused on the arts and benignly agnostic. They meet an architect starting his career in Vienna who exemplifies the new thought and hire him to build them a house created from the minimalist school where the heavy designs of the past are out. Instead, they want a house with open areas, minimal furniture and clear visions both inside and out. Spare in design, the house has living quarters upstairs and the lower floor is one vast glassed room that overlooks the city. Young, wealthy and valued patrons of the arts, the Laundauers seem to have it all. But gilded perfect lives rarely stay that way. There are strains on the marriage as the years pass. Children arrive and their love moves to a settled relationship and each starts to venture outside the marriage for friendship and romance. As the years pass and move inevitably towards the mid-1940's, all of Europe changes with the advent of the Nazi Party and Hitler's unstoppable drive to rule all that he sees. Viktor is Jewish. He is not observant, but that makes no difference. Viktor clearly sees what is coming. He manages to convince Liesel that they must leave, and with their children, nanny and her child who has been raised with their children, they move to Switzerland. They learn what is going on from friends and family that remain behind. All that they treasured is lost. Many of their friends are caught up in the Nazi horrors and their glorious house built to celebrate a new age is now a "research station" where people are measured in an attempt to find the markers that separate Jew from non-Jew. The Glass Room has a 2009 finalist for the Man Booker Prize. In it, Mawer leads the reader through the horror of what man can do to man without clubbing them over the head with unceasing details. He also shows how men and women hurt each other while trying to carve out a place of safety and love for themselves. The book not only covers the years of World War II, but the Communist era that followed in this area. It is highly recommended for all readers and is a book I'll remember for a long time.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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. 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room takes you back in time. The characters are so strong. You feel you know them personally and can picture each one's traits and style. The book takes you to an unusal house for this time period. By the end of the story you know this house and each room, especailly the glass room, and all the people who were somehow a part of this house.
bongie More than 1 year ago
Had a hard time reading this book. The story was fine but the writer failed us by going on and on a showing no emotion all threw the book. I wouldn't tell anyone to read this and hope the author learns and does better next time.
LifeExamined More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room was captivating. The central character, the house itself, reflects upon a real glass house by the architect Mies van der Rohr (sp?). In truth, the characters sometimes struggle to star in comparison to the sterling descriptions of the house. Nonetheless, most of them do star and remain in my memory, weeks later. Now I will read all of Mawer's novels including his first which is out of print. He is a writer to gobble up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is fantastic novel. It was inspired by a real house, the Tugendhat House built by Mies Van der Rohe in the Czech Republic in 1930. It has wonderfully interesting characters, twists & turns and a unique concept. I love how everything seemed to revolve around the glass room. I think this would make a great book club choice as there is much to discuss in it. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is a terric book. I first heard about it when it was reviewed on the NPR radio show hosted by Diane Rehm. There I learned that it was inspired by a real house, the Tugendhat House built by Mies Van der Rohe in the Czech Republic in 1930. I saw photographs and learned of it's history online, and immediately wanted to read the book. This is a novel that borrows from the real story at times, but is an amazingly original work. I found it to be a page turner, with many twists, and completely enthralling. The characters are beautifully drawn and the central character "the glass room" is described exactly like the glass room in the Tugendhat House. The political and cultural environment of the time period is a major factor in this book including the Nazi's invasion of Checkoslavia as well as the escape and resettlement of the owners of the home, a Jewish family. The book covers many years and what happens to all the characters, including glass room and it many uses during the time. I highly recommend this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simon Mawer did an excellent job at creating his characters and drawing the reader into the characters' lives. Mawer obviously did quite a bit of research into the period. Although at times the action was a bit flat, an unexpected twist or event would almost shock the reader into needing to see what happened next.
MarkMeg on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Built for Viktor and Liesel Landauer by Rainer Von Abt in the 1920's. It is a perfect world until the Germans invade Chekoslovakia. The Landauers with son Martin and daughter Otillie leave with his mistress Kata and her daughter Marika. They leave behind Hana and her husband. Hana tries to save her husband from the camps by seducing a German scientist, but loses and they are both sent to the camps--she pregnant with the scientists child--born and dies. Ultimately all comes full circle as Liesl returns to the Glass Room to see Hana. Marika and Ottile reunite as well. A lot has happened---Nazis. Communism and so much more.
dablackwood on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The Glass Room is an unusual book. It is very easy to read - short simple chapters. It starts out as the story of a young Czech couple who marry and build a beautiful contemporary house with two glass walls and an onyx wall separating the two main-floor rooms. It ends up as the story of the occupation by Nazis and the owners abandoning the house and emigrating to Switzerland and eventually to the United States because the husband is a Jew. The house is as much a character in the book as any person. The story is poignant and beautifully told. I didn't give it 5 stars because it lacked the emotional "thing" that makes me know I've read a masterpiece.
magentaflake on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Victor and Liesel Landauer, on holiday in 1928 in Venice, meet architect Rainer von Abt. He is a new thinker, builder of Art Deco design and builds them a futuristic house with open space living and a room made of glass. The book is the story of the house and the lives of the people who live in it. , throughout the turbulent years of the thirties, World War 2 and the soviet rule to the Czechy state. Fabulous read. Couldn't put it down.
snash on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The book is historical fiction, set from 1928 to 1990. The glass room is a very unique modern house in Czechoslovakia which plays the role of connecting a number of unrelated lives while playing the part of a character in and of itself. The story is one of love in its many flavors and the fateful role of history in people's lives. An excellent book
splinfo on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I wanted to love this book, rather I liked it. The writing was beautiful, the sense of the spaces architectural and personal was the highlight for me and maybe the point. The twists of plot were pretty dang fantastic; as in over the top. A little disappointed in the end.
tibobi on LibraryThing 10 months ago
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.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.
tangledthread on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Simon Mawer has written an intriguing book about people, places, and politics. Inspired by an actual glass house built in Czechoslovakia in 1929, the book begins with fictional characters Liesel and Victor Landauer on their honeymoon. Victor is the wealthy owner of the Landauer automotive company,a veteran of WWI, and a Jew. Liesel is somewhat younger and the daughter of a well to do family from Austria.The first part of the book focuses on the couple and the home they are building with a well known modern architect from Austria. The couple embrace the modern ideas that were flourishing in that period between the wars, especially from the Weimer Culture. Because this section of the book is so long, it's easy to forget that the story really is about the Glass Room and not just about this particular couple.As Hitler comes to power and Czechoslovakia is occupied by the Germans, Victor and his somewhat awkward family emigrate to Switzerland and eventually the U.S. However the story remains with the house as the country is occupied by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. Mawer does an excellent job of creating the particular atmosphere of the house without anthropomorphizing it in any way. He provides us with glimpses of class and culture that reflect the times in which the characters lived. There were times when I found the characters to be a bit tedious. But then again people are like that.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 10 months ago
One of the first things I noticed about this book was that the writing style reminded me of other books I had read that were translated from a language other than English, but this book was written in English, not translated. That Simon Mawer's style mimicked a novel in translation, yet was really tremendously well controlled is just one of the aspects that make this book stand out from other historical novels. For The Glass Room is an historical novel and both the sometimes subtle presence and sometimes ironic impact of historical context is integral to the story. The story starts simply enough, a Czech couple, the Landauers, on their honeymoon journey to Italy, but before they arrive there they visit the grave of the Bride's brother who died in the Great War. In just a few pages we already have some of the themes: history, endings and beginnings, death and life. But this novel is just as much about the new house that is yet to be built on a plot of land that was a present from the bride's parents. It is this house, designed by the great modern architect Rainer von Abt, that will have as its centerpiece the "Glass Room" of the title. The story spans the rest of the twentieth century and involves living, loving, tragedy and more than one metamorphosis for the "Glass Room" at the heart of the story.In addition to the smooth almost glass-like writing style I was impressed by the structure of the book as the story gathers speed, develops the central characters, provides suspense and deftly links the various subplots. Early in the novel the architect, Rainer von Abt, tells the Landauers that:"'I am a poet of space and form. Of light' -- it seemed to be no difficulty at all to drag another quality into his aesthetic -- 'of light and space and form. Architects are people who build walls and floors and roofs. I capture and enclose the space within.'"(p 16)The author is also a poet whose aesthetic provides similar form for this story. Yes, this is the exciting era of modern architecture, of the new era represented by artists like Mondrian and others who were establishing "de stijl". The world is constantly changing and the artists, the architects, and musicians like Janacek and Kapralova are leading the way. The political world of the story is in turmoil with changes, including another war and its aftermath, lead the Landauers to new ventures, places, and loves as the plot unfolds. However, the key to the story remains the haunting spirit of the"Glass Room"."She dreams. She dreams of cold. She dreams of glass and light, the Glass Room washed with reflection, and the cool view across the city of rooftops, the cold view through the trees, the crack of snow beneath your boots. She dreams of a place that is without form or substance, that exists only in the manner of dreams, shifting and insubstantial, diffuse, diverse;"
LiterateHousewife on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Viktor and Liesel Landauer are newlyweds in a plum position in Czechoslovakia prior to the stirrings of World War II. They have land given to them by Liesel¿s parents. That, along with Viktor¿s wealth from his automobile company, provides them the opportunity to conceive of and bring to life their dream house. It is the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who brings their vision of perfection to life, a house predominately of glass and steal. When people know what to think of the house, they are amazed. The glass room, which has panels that will completely slide down to the lower level of the house, is especially impressive. The Landauers host parties and support the arts through the use of their house. In such minimalistic surroundings, there is no where to hide. They take pride in house in that it requires them to live a transparent life with no secrets. It doesn¿t take long, however, before there are plenty of secrets. Viktor takes a lover and, after the near fatal birth of their second and last child, Liesel finds solace and comfort in her friend, Hana. Both women are young, sophisticated Czechoslovakians, both of whom have married Jewish men. Despite the upheaval Viktor¿s affair brings to their marriage, the Laudauer family must flee together to escape the Nazis, leaving their future and their home to fate.I found The Glass Room a fascinating novel. It was about the house, which could have only come into existence because of the relationship with Viktor and Liesel. Regardless of what they were trying to portray, their minimalistic home was a reflection of their sparse relationship. They were not compelled or forced into their marriage, yet I never got a real sense of why they wanted to marry in the first place. While they claim that the lack of walls allows for no secrets or deception, I found it to really say that there was no structure or support for their marriage or themselves. Could the house have been brought into existence by a couple in love or did the house create an atmosphere that simply didn't foster what could have otherwise been a warm, loving marriage?Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this novel is that it is based upon, Villa Tugendhat, a home actually designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The fact that there was such a house and an onyx wall really captured my imagination. Not only was I able to see how the Laudauer's Glass Room shifted and changed as it was lived in and used over time, I was able to read about what happened to Villa Tugendhat as well. As with Loving Frank, I loved how this novel combined historical fiction along with architectural history. I really love that in a novel and that surprises me a little. I'm not otherwise someone who is curious about architecture. Perhaps because it gives the story structure as well it just makes sense to me.I cannot say enough about The Glass Room. It was one of the last books I read in 2009 and will be listed among my favorites. I enjoyed the stories of the people populating the Glass Room as much as I enjoyed spending time there. This is my first novel by Simon Mawer and I found him to be an excellent writer and story teller. That this novel was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize does not surprise me at all. It was just that good.
picardyrose on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Jews and their spouses in Czechoslovakia. No, it does not go just as you're thinking it would. The house sounds beautiful, but I wouldn't want to live there.
kheders on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Very intersting book that blends architecture, politics, WW II, and relationships together. Some events were a stretch and coincidental...but other than that, the story was great and believable.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Ponderous cliched writing and relentless, predictable foreboding doomed this read for me. The story of the Landauers, wealthy industrialist patrons of the arts who hire an avant-garde architect to build them a modernist masterpiece of a house could have been compelling, but was somehow so pretentious that I couldn't muster up the energy to care about either of them. Sadly, the people that follow them in the story weren't worth caring about for me, either.The architect in the novel is modeled after Mies van der Rohe, the house is modeled after the Tugendhadt House in Brno. There is a glass room in the house that Mawer uses as the transparent stage for all of the characters in this book that ranges over time through the Holocaust and into the next century. The metaphor is crystal clear, but what the author does with it just wasn't compelling for me. I didn't care about anyone in this book or anything that happened. Instead, I spent most of the book pondering the modernist aesthetic in architecture, painting, and sculpture and whether or not it has held up over time. This pondering was only loosely inspired by the book's subject matter and, I suspect, was more likely my imagination's way of keeping my brain occupied while I ploughed through this book.I know that lots of people really loved this book and it was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, but for me it was torturous and awful. I gave it two stars because the modernist aesthetic is interesting to think about and I hadn't done so in awhile. I don't think that's a ringing endorsement.
cameling on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Every once in a while, if you're lucky, you come across beautiful writing about the frailty and strength of human relationships. This is one of those lucky moments for me. The house of glass that was designed and built for a rich Czech couple was the epitome of modern art. They fill it with beautiful art, music and friends. But the glass house allows us to see what they try to hide, an unhappy marriage, loneliness , insecurities, and still, love. As the world starts to crumble into chaos with Hitler's invasion across Europe, the family flee the country. Over time, there other inhabitants of this glass house. Caretakers turn to hoarding goods and selling them on the black market. A Nazi scientific laboratory where people are brought in and measured, to see if Jews had specific physical measurements. Russians turn it into a children's hospital for physiotherapy. And through all this time, the glass house continues to provide us with a microscope into the lives of all who live in or pass through its panes. We're given an insight into a man who is detached from his family but becomes infatuated with a woman he meets by chance, his wife who compartmentalizes her feelings and coordinates a unique living arrangement to keep her family together, a woman who lives as a free-spirit flitting from one lover to another...until one sends her to a concentration camp in Ravensbruck, an actress who seeks to escape from her jealous husband in order to return to the silver screen, and a woman who turns to a different career once her dreams where shattered by a broken ankle. Time passes, governments come and go, lives change, and through it all, the glass house remains.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The plot is set in Czechoslovakia before, during and after the Second World War. It¿s somewhat based on real events, and a real place, the Glass Room (Villa Tugendhat), which is a house built in the thirties of the twentieth century, very modern and spacey with a translucent onyx wall, travertine floors and floor to ceiling windows, giving an illusion of a `glass room¿. It¿s still there, in Brno, and can be visited by general public, but the story that unfolds in the book has little to do with the real story of the Jewish family that lived there and abandoned it once the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia (except for that fact apparently). Many characters inhabit the house as the times change and years go by. We see them defined by their relationship to the house and mostly by the sexual relationships they have- but they are never fully explored as characters. The plan for the house had its fictional origin in the sexual tension between the architect and the owner, so there is some justification for it in the story, but there is a multitude of characters, and they almost only seem to be going to bed with each other. We almost never meet them in other situations. It seems as if the author wasn¿t able to figure out a non-sexual, non-committal relationship, and its use in the story. Even a sixty year old woman has to fall in love with a twenty year old one (after having fallen in love and having had sex with other characters there as well) to be able to pour her life out to her. They can¿t just become friends, or compassionate acquaintances- such a situation is apparently too difficult for the author to figure out. And, then there are things that are just plain corny there, the ending included. There are some interesting aspects to the story, with the house being an anchor to the plot and a metaphor for transparency and peace, abused by both the people inhabiting it and by history, and definitely interesting language games, but they get drowned by the corniness there. What comes to mind, vaguely, is the atmosphere of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera, but in a much worse shape and form.