The Glass Room

The Glass RoomThe Glass Room by Simon Mawer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fictional main characters, but based on a real house: Villa Tugendhat (http://www.tugendhat.eu/en/). The house serves as the lens through which we view the characters and the action, sort of like a camera. Lots of metaphors about light and space, plays on words (Raum/Traum), and philosophical musings. But on the whole, I didn’t get it. The characters were cold, unemotional, and not very likeable. Lots of sex and sex talk, which left me cold. Perhaps that appeals to men – as a woman it didn’t appeal to me and got old very quickly. On the other hand, I thought the three women of the story, Liesl, Hana, and Katalyn were more real than the men in their lives. The story was all intellectual, scientific, clinical without any emotion. The men all had mistresses without any feelings of conflict or guilt. The women all seemed to have lesbian tendencies. Really? Was this another metaphor for the Zeitgeist of change after WWI? The expansion of old boundaries? When the Nazis took over the house and turned it into a scientific laboratory, I felt like the war was “out there” somewhere. The Landauers had left and made a new life elsewhere. There are some great ideas here and for that I could almost give this book a higher rating. I enjoyed the promise of the new house – and the desire to fill it with art and music and all those things that make life transcendent. But with light comes shadows – the shadows of infidelity, the shadows of war, of keeping secrets – the idealism that first drives Nazism, Communism, modernism (and other -isms) eventually shatters like glass.

Book description: High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass. This radiant 1930s house, with its unique Glass Room, quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WWII gather. The house passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, and bears witness to both the best and the worst history of Eastern Europe.

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