This is the title of a book by Simon Mawer that was published in 2009, but which I have only recently come across, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. And I should really thank him here for the gift of those many hours of enthralment. Merci Michel!
The title, as the author himself explains in the afterword, is a translation of the German “Glassraum”. Raum meaning much more than just room: it refers to space, to all types of space. And indeed, it is space, transparent, airy space that Simon Mawer places at the core of his novel however numerous and interesting its heroes and heroines may be.
All of them indeed seduce the reader of a page-turner that you will only relinquish out of vital necessity, and that, once finished, urges you to tell everyone about – if only to share your pleasure.
So, the novel is all about a fabulous house, the mind-child of a very gifted avant-garde architect, and it is set in a brand-new country (at the time): CZECHOSLOVAKIA. The building is order-made, in the thirties, by a very wealthy couple, the Landauers. He is an industrialist, a car manufacturer. He is also Jewish. His wife, Liesel, is a gentile. They are going to have two children, Ottilie and Martin, and in view of the approaching storm, the reader is quick to understand that doom will soon befall them, as all the people around them.
However, right away, it is the house that strikes you, the reader, as the epicentre of all the emotions that cross the novel. You are a witness to its conception, its birth and its baptism. You attend the parties thrown in its honour. And later, you have to bear with its corruption, its decadence, and eventually, wonder at its rebirth. And, one by one, intrigues, desires, treasons, partings and reunions take place in the phenomenal Glass Room that is the heart of the abode. Its two hundred and thirty four square meters are split by an unbelievable onyx partition. All is glass and light, the inside and the outside being parted by a huge glass panel that disappears magically by the switch of a finger. The frontier between inside and outside, this is what Simon Mawer tackles, in this novel, and not only from an architectural point of view.
The characters are all moving, diverse as they may be. The reader is fascinated by each of them: from the lowest to the most powerful one, they are all multifaceted. Simon Mawer instils incredible life into them. He did well to specify in an author’s note that they are the figments of his imagination, or one might have believed them to be real. The historical background, however, rings truer than life.
But, I shall insist, it is the house, or the place, that fascinates the reader, even more than the characters. It reminded me of Tara, in Gone with the Wind. Since I read, long ago, about the world-famous plantation, no novel has evoked for me in such a strong manner the importance a place can take in a family’s life. Likewise, The Glass House may well be handed from a defeated owner to a conqueror, from a loser to a victor, be the victim of assaults as humiliating as those inflicted upon the people around it, it resists.
It is therefore this magical place that ties all the characters together. It holds them inside its womb, it releases them, it watches them (through the eye of its ominous, fiddly caretaker); it gathers them back, it fashions the way they look upon the rest of the world, and their memories, and of course their multitudinous love stories.
Simon Mawer (and I had never read anything by him before) goes straight to the point, to the miracle of love that reunites beyond the turmoil of life’s events those who should never have been parted. In this novel, when someone is lost on the way (literally-speaking), just as in real life, the question is asked; “How to find him, or her, again?”
Chapter after chapter, the spellbound reader tries to grasp the clues. But, just as in real life, the loss is sometimes irreparable; the cracked glass can’t be fixed. As for the broken heart, it can only be mended, for a brief, precious time, by the infinite emotion that the reading of some novels will provide.
THE GLASS ROOM, Simon Mawer, 2009