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The Glass Room [Paperback]

Simon Mawer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 April 2010

Cool. Balanced. Modern. The precisions of science, the wild variance of lust, the catharsis of confession and the fear of failure - these are things that happen in the Glass Room.

High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass and onyx built specially for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile. But the radiant honesty of 1930 that the house, with its unique Glass Room, seems to engender quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WW2 gather, and eventually the family must flee, accompanied by Viktor's lover and her child.

But the house's story is far from over, and as it passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, both the best and the worst of the history of Eastern Europe becomes somehow embodied and perhaps emboldened within the beautiful and austere surfaces and planes so carefully designed, until events become full-circle.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (22 April 2010)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 034912132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349121321
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Educated at Millfield School in Somerset and at Brasenose College, Oxford, Mawer took a degree in biology and worked as a biology teacher for many years. His first novel, Chimera, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1989, winning the McKitterick Prize for first novels. Mendel's Dwarf (1997), reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Time "Book to Remember" for 1998. The Gospel of Judas, The Fall (winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature) and Swimming to Ithaca followed. In 2009 The Glass Room, his tenth book and eighth novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Mawer is married and has two children. He has lived in Italy for over thirty years.

Product Description


** 'THE GLASS ROOM is a fiction of many remarkable qualities . . . 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 (Jane Shilling, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

** '[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 (Richard T Kelly, FINANCIAL TIMES)

** 'Mawer creates a passionately detailed portrait of individuals struggling to snatch order and happiness from frightening, irrational times . . . THE GLASS ROOM achieves a rare feat of being truly enjoyable to read. (Rachel Aspden, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

** 'Love triangles litter Mawer's story. They bear witness to his great talent for grasping the non-linear nature of desire. (Philip Oltermann, THE TIMES)


'THE GLASS ROOM is a fiction of many remarkable qualities' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Art Imitating Life? 22 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brno, Czechoslovakia 1928. Leisel and Victor wealthy newly weds with liberal friends and modern ideas meet an architect by chance in Venice who offers them an ideal way of reflecting their hopes, aspirations and beliefs both personal and political in an innovative modern home. Despite their own qualms and technical problems, the house is built overlooking the city made of steel, glass and precious minerals-a testament to progress and clarity. Alas, the situation of Europe and the marriage of the couple rapidly disintegrates and quickly the glass house of dreams becomes a place of secrets, repressed desires and fear. Mawer guides his characters and their iconic house through the betrayals of Munich, escape from Nazism and the later trials of Communism. He writes well with a good feeling for the country and the story is compelling often carrying strong erotic overtones as if the house itself carries a sexual charge. However, for me the book is badly compromised by the author's excessive use of coincidence to drive his plot and by the weak, sentimental ending. There is definitely a sense of disappointment at the finale, when having read what went before, you are expecting a more convincing and original conclusion. This is one of those books you will enjoy for the atmosphere, the ideas and the individual scenes, but where the whole is not quite the sum of its parts. Read it anyway, but Wolf Hall rightly won the Booker over this.
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205 of 210 people found the following review helpful
The Glass Room refers to the dramatic living area of a modernist house built on a hill-side in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. Its architect was commissioned by Victor Landauer and his wife Liesel, with a brief to design a house made of glass and steel, devoid of ornamentation or unnecessary decoration, a house fit for a stylish couple, owners of the Landauer company, makers of luxury motor-cars.

The house is built and lives up to expectations, the young couple receiving guests in the glass room, with its onyx walls and its breathtaking views. Victor and Leisel are wealthy and thoroughly modern couple and their new house matches their style perfectly, "living inside a work of art is an experience of sublime delight - the tranquillity of the large living room and the intimacy of the smaller rooms . . . the most remarkable experience of modern living".

Simon Mawer follows the history of the house over the next 50 years, but of course the Landauer family and their friends are the main point of the story. Is it possible to tell the story of a family without also recalling the places in which they live? We build our homes as an expression of ourselves and our memories are often centred on the sense of place as much as on those who inhabit those spaces. Leisel Landauer has her great friend and confidante, the stylish and erratic Hanna. Her husband has another friend who come to play a large part in both their lives. Children are born and grow and find that the house has a place in their lives too, although perhaps retrospectively.

Beginning in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia, Mawer's story is of course about the war and its aftermath.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars People who live in glass rooms shouldn't .... 2 Feb 2009
By Diacha
This is a another first rate novel by Simon Mawer. The central protaganists are the Czech/Jewish industrialist Landauers, who are traced from their courtship and marriage to their exile from the Nazis through Switzerland to the United States. But the real hero of the book is the Glass Room (Raum - not exactly the same thing in German or for that matter in Czech or in Russian as is noted in the novel) itself, a fictional version of Mies Van der Rohe's Tugendhat (the architect makes his own appearance as Rainier Von Abt), which the urbane Viktor builds as a marital home for his almost adventurous wife, Liesel. The house - though house is not quite the right word either - metamorphosizes several times over the century, from rich man's showpiece, to nazi biometric research centre to postwar physiotherapy dance studio to communist museum to symbol of the Prague Spring. The house - given some imaginative substance by a series of prints spaced throughout - is far more than a building: it acts as a mirror for the great themes of the twentieth century . It is also the venue for a lot of forbidden sex, its transparency perhaps suggesting a riskseeking desire to be discovered. The waves of history and of eroticsm flood together in this glass room, the one, perhaps, making the other bearable.

The plot depends a fair bit on coincidence - the appearance of Kata, Viktor's part-time mistress from Vienna, as a refugee in Mesto and her subsequent transition to becoming his children's nanny, for example. However, the pace of the story, the excellence of the prose and the ever present mixture of evil, hope and eroticism, and the great lighthouse beam reflection of the glass room itself more than compensate.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glass walls let in both light and darkness 12 Oct 2009
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author tells us in a Note at the beginning of this novel that the beautiful modern house that contains the Glass Room is not fictional. Here called the Landauer House in Mesto, it is in fact the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, completed in 1930; and, excellent and faithful though the descriptions of it are, some readers may like to look at Google Images to see what the exterior and the interior actually looked like. They can also ascertain that the real name of the architect, here called Rainer von Abt, was Mies van der Rohe, and the real owners of the house were Fritz Tugendhat (a textile magnate) and his wife Greta, who were BOTH Jewish: in the novel only the husband (Viktor) is Jewish, his wife (Liesel) is not. Well, we have been told in the Note that most of the characters in the novel are fictional, but that some of them are not. So, for instance, one member of Victor's circle is the armaments manufacturer Fritz Mandel who really existed (a converted Viennese Jew who nevertheless had close contacts with the Italian fascists and German Nazis), and Mandl was really married for a time to Eva Kiesler, better known as the sensational film star Hedy Lamarr, who in this novel is said to have had a brief lesbian relationship with Liesl closest friend, Hana Hanacova. When the Nazis confiscated the Villa Tugendhat, they rented it out to the aircraft manufacturer Walter Messerschmidt. This does happen in the book, but before that, the novel has the villa used as a Eugenics Research Centre, and the people working there are students of Nazi eugenics departments that really existed. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel set in the Czech Republic (the concept of space and “Raum”)
This is the novel I chose to take with me to Prague and environs so that I could get another dimension of what life in this central European state might have been like. Read more
Published 13 days ago by TripFiction
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 15 days ago by ht2611
5.0 out of 5 stars The Glass Room
A really imaginative storyline that gives a great depth in characters. One of the best books I've read in the last year. Highly recommended
Published 1 month ago by stuffyshopper
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative
Thoroughly enjoyed this book which was a book club choice and not a book I would usually choose to read! Good choice!
Published 1 month ago by Samantha Sampson
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written
Enjoyed the insight into an important historical period. Taking the house as the focus for the story was an unusual view and made it memorable.
Published 3 months ago by Jeannie
5.0 out of 5 stars Villa Tugendhat in Brno
As a vistor to the Villa this book lkeft me uneasy at the distortion of historical fact. but after the initial disjoint (in my head) I enjoyed the read. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Robin Melhuish
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding
I was spellbound by this atmospheric book with its elegant, academic writing bursting with vibrant imagery which so richly described the Landauer House with its Glass Room. Read more
Published 4 months ago by S. Babb
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Great story with well defined characters. It was interesting to have a room in a house as the central attraction and the description of the room was so well defined that when I saw... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mrs M.
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed this
Good story, very original and you really identified with the characters. Author gave a very good account of wartime and its effect on lives. Would recommend.
Published 4 months ago by Not a Techno
3.0 out of 5 stars Simple and lacking depth
This title gives a good idea of the author’s authentic inspiration, but does little to prepare the reader for the specific nature of its introspection. Read more
Published 4 months ago by M. Dunlop Ferraro
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