The Glass Room UK Reviews
From the News of the World, 25 April 2010
"...a haunting read... You'll be swept up into the lives of people struggling to find happiness in frightening times. What's amazing is how Mawer perfectly crafts each character and cleverly weaves their experiences together."
From the Observer, 25th April 2010
"Good prose, Orwell would have you believe, is like a window pane. Had Orwell been Simon Mawer, he might have specified what kind of window pane he had in mind, where, when and in what lighting. The Glass Room is full of windows that are smeared, windows that reflect or diffuse light, that shatter. "Refraction of the daytime," as one character puts it, "become reflection of the night." Every window is a potential two-way mirror. A broken shard is a knife.
... Mawer's technique here is a form of the historical layering that he previously plied in Swimming to Ithaca and The Fall. Five sections move the story from 1928 through Nazi occupation, Soviet control and the Prague Spring to the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution. Like the house, the novel is flawlessly constructed, revealing the careful plan of its reflections and symmetries, the lines of force hidden in its surfaces and its concealed architecture. Its only snag is that the final blueprints seem, if anything, too neatly drawn, too traditional: the book could have done without its sentimental coda.
That aside, The Glass Room, shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize,
is Mawer's finest work so far. From the materials of the house itself
he draws unexpected resonances, candescent onyx balancing pellucid
glass, and that glass itself shifting between aspects. When the house
becomes a research outpost of Nazi racial science, we think of the
test tube and the Petri dish; when a Soviet bomb shatters the room,
the shard-carpeted cities of Europe come to mind. And always at the
back of the mind, as the Jewish characters flee their homes, are the
hideous shatterings of Kristallnacht."
From the Sunday Telegraph, 18th June 2010
"Written so intelligently and seriously that it avoids all traps of sentimentality, it explores the impossibility of perfect vision even as the author displays his own."
From the Sunday Telegraph, 14th June 2009
"...truly stunning... a spectacular edifice of a novel, as tightly structured as it is beautifully written."
From Standpoint, March 2009
"... magnificent ...delicately subtle - an affair of shifts and shades, retrospective ironies and elegiac grace-notes.
Mawer has created a novel that is subtly and movingly human..."
"Here at last is a novel informed by exceptional intelligence...the clarity with which it is written is almost unfamiliar and certainly to be admired.
The ending is infinitely moving. It should be emphasised that this is not the sort of house that features in most English novels. There are no echoes of Brideshead here. This house — long, low, rectilinear — does not inspire sentimentality. It is its unfamiliar purity which is its outstanding feature, and this purity also characterises the novel itself. There is little sex, little weather, and a total absence of stylistic flourishes. It is, in sum, a humanist novel, unusual in its breadth and scope, and also in its dignity. Definitely Bookerish."
"... engrossing... Mawer explores his themes with a subtle intelligence. A novel of ideas, but one driven by character and story."
"I couldn't resist the thrilling and satisfying conceit Simon Mawer has woven around his fictional "Landauer house"
The book has the feeling of being the author's tribute to the history of a country, and people, to whose First Republic Hitler put paid barely after 20 years of astonishing flourishing. But it's not a history lesson. The text is convincingly studded with a mixture of German and Czech that was the lingua franca of families like the Landauers. The Jewish fates of Viktor, Kata and others are lightly handled, which seems just right in this optimistic, joyful but never facile vision of human achievement. Mawer's perfect pacing clinches a wholly enjoyable and moving read."
"Mawer is a gifted and persuasive writer. In particular, he deftly conjures up the proportions and the atmosphere of the Landauer house itself. He has a good ear for dialogue, and the novel has some darkly comic passages...
In Mawer’s hands [the glass room] becomes a means for exploring the way people’s hopes for the future become part of their history. This he does beautifully.
The openness of the glass room is matched by the transparency of
the novel’s plot. The Landauers’ lives are on display
to the reader from the start, and there is little sense that any character
in the novel has a secret life. Nor can there be much doubt as to
how things will turn out, in a narrative whose turns are contingent
on such well-known historical episodes. But if The Glass Room offers
little in the way of suspense, it remains a compelling work of fiction.
Indeed, it is the inevitability of events which make it compelling,
as we chart the building’s journey from modernity to beautiful
"Mawer takes this extraordinary modernist construction and builds it a new past - and... his hunger to change the rules proves inspirational...
... [his] novel is no dry intellectual exercise. The Landauers and their friends... are cultured and rich, and their life through the 1930s is as glossy and exciting as the house it happens in. And as complexly structured: Hana, serially unfaithful, is in love with Liesel, and Viktor - well, if you want to know what Viktor is up to, read the book.
The writing, as sensual and sophisitcated as its subjects, keeps us firmly within the house's elegant parameters, caught up in the touch and taste and roiling emotions of the characters living through these events. Seeing clearly, Mawer shows us, is never an option, no matter how large and expensive your windows. Every era thinks it has achieved transparency, complete with modern fixtures and sundry decorations. But we can't ever actually see out, because our damned humanity keeps misting up the glass."
"[The] beautifully realised setting does not overwhelm its fictional inhabitants. [Mawer] avoids excessive character analysis and lets the Landauers and their circle gradually reveal themselves by their actions, often in convincingly unexpected ways...
...As the story ends in 1990, with the house a museum, the recent history of the real house does not figure. The Tugendhats have filed for restitution under the law on artworks looted by the Nazis, which will require a legal ruling on whether a house can really be, as von Abt proclaims, a work of art. An intriguing angle missed. But still, Mawer's own work of art is a largely sound and satisfying one."
"Mr Mawer likes to write about ideas, which makes him unusual among British novelists. “The Glass Room” is a carefully constructed book, beautifully written. If there is a flaw, it is a lack of contact with the characters—the only figure portrayed with feeling is the flippant and omnisexual Hana Hanakova, who becomes the real survivor of the story. However, this narrative distance emphasises the fact that to the glass room, indifferent and ageless, people pass through “like summer mayflies with their gossamer wings and delicate tails and ephemeral lives”. The novel succeeds as a reminder of the transient nature of human existence."
"...cool, controlled and certain. So many contemporary novels are hot and grasp uncertainly for meaning. The Glass Room is a reminder of another way of writing, and in its rueful cosmopolitanism, another way of being."
"...powerful and elegiac... Mawer’s poetic and masterful prose is flawless from beginning to end. Having based ‘Der Glasraum’ on a nameless but existing building, with all its lives, desires, tragedies and triumphs, the reader is as ensnared as the various inhabitants by its unique beauty and organic tangibility."
"[The Glass Room is] a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry... a novel of ideas, yet strongly propelled by plot and characterised by an almost dreamlike simplicity of telling. Comparisons with the work of Michael Frayn would not be misplaced, and there are occasional moments of illuminating brilliance...
The Glass Room is not merely a piece of architecture within the book: it is the architecture of the book. All the characters interact with and within the house in some way; all plot revelations take place within its shimmering walls; history doesn't take place outside it, it comes to it... This could easily be over-ingenious or simply absurd, a device ripe for parody. Exactly how Mawer manages to avoid the many potential embarrassments and pitfalls he sets up for himself is worth considering.
...[Mawer] purges his sentences of metaphor and simile, preferring instead the devices of parallelism and symbolism. Thus, through balance, proportion and careful arrangement of both sentences and plot, he transcends mere cleverness to become profound... Such effects lend to the prose a spirit of quiet wisdom.
The Glass Room is a rare thing: popular historical fiction with integrity. When they make it into a film, which they will, they'll ruin it."
"...unique and evocative... a magnificent literary structure of infinite style and memorable detail. An overriding sense of place and time pervade this tale of human frailty and the will to survive against all the odds. Here is an author at the very peak of his powers."
"...it comes as no surprise that love triangles litter Mawer's story. They bear witness to his great talent for grasping the non-linear nature of desire.
If there is a problem with his book, it is not that its architecture is “too cold” - as von Abt fears people might think of his building - but that the motives and meanings of his characters are sometimes too crystal clear. Modernist architecture, Freudian psychoanalysis and middle-class angst: so typical of the Mitteleuropean 20th century are the lives of the central pair Liesel and Viktor that one sometimes wonders if we are reading a history book or their proper stories. A few dark corners and dead ends, one feels, would have improved the impressive overall design."
"Simon Mawer's grasp of period and place achieves what all great novels must: the creation of an utterly absorbing world the reader can scarcely bear to leave. Exciting, profoundly affecting and altogether wonderful."
"...Mawer creates a passionately detailed portrait of individuals struggling to snatch order and happiness from frightenng, irrational times.
... his style is less modernist angularity than deft fluency: The Glass Room achieves the rare feat of being truly enjoyable to read. Despite the brutal tarnishing of the Landauers' dream, the novel ends with scenes of hope: Liesel's miraculous return to the battered but intact Glass Room, and the reunion of long-parted friends. In the best mirror-reversal of all, its publication may even help to save the Landauer House's real twin, currently crumbling in the hands of the Brno city council."
"The Glass Room is a fiction of many remarkable qualities, not the least of which is the way that its sensibility appears utterly unEnglish, as though Mawer were not giving an expert impersonation of a family of haute-bourgeois Czech Jews at the outbreak of the Second World War but had, by some alchemy, become his characters. A benign side effect of this possession is that it enables Mawer to write about sex and desire entirely without the traditional British overtone of rueful bathos, but seriously, steadily, beautifully: as though desire were a branch of aesthetics (which it is) and also of linguistics (ditto). Mawer’s control of his themes of language, desire, memory and the power of place is extraordinary – as haunting and mysterious as the effect of sunlight on the wall of golden onyx that survives all the convulsions by which his characters are engulfed."
"... the novel's main character is Time itself: the old enemy, ever-present and fundamentally indifferent to our human follies.
...Narrating in a formidable third-person, Mawer proposes that Viktor would be an apt patient for "that other Moravian-German Jew, Sigmund Freud". A more challenging study for the good doctor would be Liesel's friend Hana Hanáková, a thrilling female with pansexual tendencies who holds umpteen theories on love and lust, from the aesthetic superiority of lesbianism to the linkage between a man's heart and groin.
Ostensibly frivolous, Hana proves to be the seer of a coming storm. "It's too good to last", she says of all things. The enlightened Landauers are fractionally slower to attend to the daubing of swastikas and the tread of Panzers...
... Hana [is] Mawer's real heroine, who perceives that happiness is as transitory as orgasm and that one must take one's pleasure where one can...
...The Glass Room['s] poetic success is to remind us of two great gilt-edged ironies: that whatever is held to be the height of modernity is already en route to the museum, and that even "cold" art is the embodiment of its maker's passion - one that can prove contagious."
Richard T Kelly
The Glass Room, Little, Brown January 2009