Wednesday, 5 May 2010
There's no place like home
A book which has burrowed its way into my innermost thoughts recently is The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, an intelligent tale set in the former Czechoslovakia focusing on the themes of art, loss, love, fear and betrayal.
And architecture too! Yes, that particular theme is one of the most prevalent running through this novel, and an unusual one too. In the book, wealthy Jew Viktor Landauer and his wife Liesel have been given a gift of land by Liesel's parents to build their own home. Not wanting something traditional, Viktor seeks out the modern and goes ahead with plans to build a glass room - Der Glasraum. The architect employed by Viktor is Rainer von Abt, a man whom the couple met on their honeymoon and one who is deeply moved by innovation and progress.
The Glass Room is not merely a room per se in the novel: it forms the structure of the book – think of a roof under which all the characters interact. The storylines develop under this roof and the glass room becomes the focal point of all manner of activity.
However, as the story progresses, the Glass Room is removed from the Landauers and taken over by the Nazis for scientific experiments, and then claimed by the communists, before becoming a museum, and the site for a final scene of redemption.
The fact that it's made of glass allows the reader to see into the lives with ease, the character are exposed, laid out before us...naked. It's voyeuristic and the many encounters between different couples threaten to throw the plot off course. The historical events too are drawn to the house, taking place within its walls, rather than in the great wide open.
A surprisingly easy read, I was engaged from start to finish. The fluency of the language, the ideas and Mawer's characters all combine to make a flawless novel.
This is Simon Mawer's eighth novel and he's an author I want to know more about. I've got my hands on a copy of The Gospel of Judas and I'm reading it once I finish We Need To Talk About Kevin. I remember reading a review of this book shortly after it was released and the reviewer said that once a film is made of this book, the story will be completely spoiled. It was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize and quite rightly so. I want to know why it didn't win.