The Glass Room US Reviews

Boston Globe, 21st March 2010

Mawer filters the story, too rich, intense, and complex in plot to summarize, through his characters’ consciousness, through their voices and by means of a strategic use of the present tense.

Consciousness grounds the novel; it has priority over the original ideals represented in the famous house. Indeed, only one description can be said to be unrefracted by a character’s mind: “A house without people has no dimensions,’’ Mawer writes after the place has been abandoned by retreating Germans... This extraordinary book could have been a routine spelling out of modernism’s failed dream, of its refusal to acknowledge ineradicable passion and contrariness and historical contingency; or it could even have been, oh horrors, an allegory. Instead it is a fully realized novel with its own ingenious architecture and interior ambience, a novel whose irony is reverberant rather than concussive.

Katherine Powers

Seattle Times, 6th February 2010

It's no surprise that British novelist Simon Mawer's "The Glass Room" was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. Covering six decades of one of the most tumultuous periods of European history, it's successful on at least three levels: as a historical novel of Europe before, during and after World War II, as a tale of erotic attraction, and as a meditation on the inspirational qualities of and limits to the power of aesthetics.

"The Glass Room" ... is an old-fashioned, beautifully constructed novel of history, passion and ideas. The Booker Prize went to Hilary Mantel's masterful "Wolf Hall," the best novel I read last year. "The Glass Room" is a worthy runner-up.

Mary Ann Gwinn

The New Yorker, 21st December 2009

In this stirring historical novel, shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Viktor and Liesel Landauer commission a house in Czechoslovakia that is to embody the rational spirit of nineteen-twenties Europe: the Landauer House, with the transparent Glass Room as its center. In the room, “there is nothing convolute, involute, awkward, or complex. Here everything can be understood as a matter of proportion and dimension.” But, as a new decade sees Europe dissolving into irrationality, the Glass Room begins “percolating the human beings who stand within it, rendering them as translucent as the glass itself.” Once devotees of reason and modernity, the Landauers find that there is no straight line in human emotion, and the room becomes a theatre in which the actors are ruled by passions they don’t completely understand.

Washington Post, 11th November 2009

The Glass Room works so effectively because Mawer embeds ... provocative aesthetic and moral issues in a war-torn adventure story that's eerily erotic and tremendously exciting...

[he] rotates several different casts through the Landauers' home, using the glass room to examine people entirely unlike the original owners. In one of the most chilling sections, a German geneticist sets up his laboratory in the abandoned house and hopes the light of science will confirm Hitler's racial propaganda. His work is peaceful -- lots of careful measuring and photographing, "the cool gaze of scientific objectivity" -- but that only renders the whole enterprise more obscene. And like everyone else who lives in this glass room, he finds that such bright exposure makes him more determined to conceal the darkest aspects of his life.

Mawer, an Englishman living in Italy, has written this novel as though it were a translation, endowing his prose with a patina of Old World formality that sounds all the more romantic ...his attention to foreign languages enriches every episode. These are, after all, people caught in the violent confluence of political upheaval; choosing to speak Czech or German or English becomes a matter of resistance or collusion or hope...

In chapter after chapter, era after era, the house miraculously continues, working as a talisman, "its spirit of transparency percolating the human beings who stand within it, rendering them as translucent as the glass itself." Like this gorgeous novel, that's an irresistible promise, though far more troubling than it first appears.

Ron Charles




The Glass Room, published by Other Press, October 2009


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