The Glass Room (2009) – Simon MAWER

Ah, accidently buying books. Is there anything greater? I picked this off the shelf at work, to see what it was like. I made the mistake of eating pizza for lunch while I did so, and spilled tomato on it. As such, I couldn’t put it back on the shelf. So I had to buy it. At least it’s been shortlisted for this year’s Booker, so it can’t be that bad. Right?

The Landauers are just married. To celebrate, they want to build the most modern, most exciting house they can. And when they succeed in this, they put a family in it. But, of course, this is Czechoslovakia in the 30s. And Mr Landauer is Jewish. The Nazis are on their way, and the only way to escape is to leave their dream home. A life in exile is not what they’d planned, but it’s what they will have to get used to.

Well, there you go. That’s not really the story of the novel, which is a bit of a shame. Well, it’s the plot of the beginning of the novel. And it’s quite good. I like the two Landauers – Liesel and Viktor – and their relationship. As with so many new marriages, they are very excited by each other, but as the children start arriving, Viktor’s eye begins to wander. To a lovely lady – Kata. His mistress soon becomes, by a curious twist of fate, the nanny to his children, and close friends with his wife. This interesting threesome lasts quite a long time, and the relationship between Liesel and Kata is probably the most interesting in the novel. Even though they know that both of them are sleeping with Viktor, they try not to talk about it. Liesel comes out of it a bit worse for wear, when it finally becomes clear that he does care more for Kata than his wife

Also interesting is Liesel’s other best friend, Hana. Another woman with a Jewish husband, it turns out she actually has a crush on Liesel herself. This could have been an excellent opportunity to do something, but alas, Mawer does nothing with it. It’s like he ran out of steam halfway through, then decided to put some more bits on at the end. Weird.

Oddly enough, it is Hana on which the rest of the novel is hung. Once the Landauers are forced to leave their house, with its eponymous Glass Room, Mawer chooses to follow the history of the room itself as the plot. Which is a bit unfortunate, because the Landauers are the most interesting part of this novel. Once they leave, the house is turned into a Nazi science laboratory – which, again, could have been far more interesting than it turned out to be. Hana seduces the lead scientist, which leads to some interesting scenes (even though the Glass Room is a living room, made out of concrete and glass, there’s a lot of sex that takes place there. Weird). After this brief stint as a lab, it becomes a hospice for children needing physiotherapy, and that’s just not very interesting, so I’m not going to get into it here.

I know I haven’t really said much about this book, but there’s not really very much to say. It’s not a bad book – far from it. It’s just boring. And by that, I mean that it’s all been done before. It’s easy to read, and somewhat diverting, but there are better books doing the same thing. Like The Zookeeper’s War, for example, which covers similar territories of people having affairs in war torn part of Europe in World War 2, but does it better. The Glass Room tries to skate along on the fact that the room is a ‘character’, but it’s not enough. The Landauers are the most interesting part of the book, and they barely appear in the second half. Which is just stupid. This is generic World War 2 historical fiction at its most bland, which is nice for some, but I’m really looking for something with a bit more oomph in my literature.

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2 thoughts on “The Glass Room (2009) – Simon MAWER

  1. Tom Westland says:

    Q. Ah, accidently buying books. Is there anything greater?
    A. Yiddish erotica.

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