Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 26, 2010

‘The Glass Room’ Simon Mawer

The Tugendhat - Thanks Wikipedia

The Tugendhat - Thanks Wikipedia


Sometimes books just frustrate me, I’m not sure if it’s the circumstances surrounding reading them (trains, who said reading books on them was relaxing? I don’t think so) or content – This novel fel like an incredible struggle to get through – and I hate that.

It’s based in the Czech republic, and loosely based around a (real) beautifully architectured house – The Tugendhat

It has a similar premise with the Onyx wall, the glass room in the centre with nothing but plate glass, and open airy spaces. Similar to the novel I guess, the glass maybe represents the transparency of things, how even though we hide behind particular facades and half-truths, underneath it all we truely understand what is actually happening.

Which brings me to my most difficult point within the novel, it felt like the entire thing was about affairs. (sexual kind, though some form of ‘international affair’ could be construed, as it is set pre, during and post WWII…). I’m almost certain that it wasn’t that easy to sneak about on your partner as the book presents. There is a lack of guilt that struck me and offended me – placing myself into my own relationship and how horrified I would feel if my partner cheated on me.

While the glass room also represents openess, I’m unsure how this fits with the closed down communist country that the Eastern European states were after the end of WWII, and the end feels so unrealistic I almost wanted to throw it across the room in disgust when I finished it. The glass room also is mentioned as a ‘rational space’ several times within the book – for a place where so many irrational things happen it seemed a slightly out of kilter term.

The content that interested me most, was the last two thirds of the book – looking at the research into what made someone a jew (could there be a single defining feature to mark the lot?) and life under communism. However the plot just didn’t measure up to the opportunity.

I wish I’d had the chance to see the house it’s based on when we were in the Czech republic earlier in the year. The country by all accounts is beautiful, and I can image that the change fromthe gothic and baroque architecture into something so stark, emtpy, but balanced and modern would have been a shock to society, and a huge change from the previous styles.

Surely when presented such a rich area to write about there’s more than just affairs and random (unrealisic) “ohmygodhowcouldthishappen” meetups? Well no, not in this novel…

Other people really liked it – The Guardian, The Independent, even the Amazon reviews are good, However I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I blame the train.

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