Simon Mawer is a new author for me. He has written other books. This one was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2009. It’s quite a long book, 400 or so pages. So I was looking forward to a good read.
It’s a family saga, set mostly in Czechoslovakia beginning in the 1930’s and continuing through several decades. Equally, it can be described as the story of a house – the house with the Glass Room. The context is Eastern Europe, second world war and all that that encompasses. The young Czech bride Liesel and her wealthy German Jew husband Victor Landauer decide to settle near her parents and have a house built by an innovative architect Rainer von Abt. The Glass Room is the ground floor sitting/dining room with a glass wall which affords wonderful views. But the room is much more significant and special than that…..
Hana is Liesel‘s best friend. At first you think that Hana is a lightweight frivolous woman but she turns out to be much more interesting. Of course there are other significant players in the story but I will leave you to discover them.
As with most family sagas there is love, sex, loyalty, betrayal, injustice, loneliness, serendipity. Life is never predictable and that is true of this family.
The best writing for me is easy to read and at the same time full of meaning. This book does just that. There are so many good bits. – you will no doubt find your own favourites. Here are just two examples which struck me Firstly, the author is describing the changing relationship of Liesel and Victor when they have been married for a while. He describes ‘a distance of mind, not body: these things are subtle’. What is good about this for me is that he suggests rather than spells out the changes in their marriage. This leaves the reader free to interpret the words for themselves. Secondly, the author describes ‘the unbearable sorrow of being’. This oh-so-concise phrase is placed at just the right point in the book and you know just what he means – or, at least, I did!
I have read other family sagas and enjoyed them This is one of the best. It’s an easy read with depth – in other words you can simply read the story and enjoy the book on that level, or you can spend time reading the thoughtful bits which will give you plenty to think about..
Slightly more mixed feelings for this one. Unusual in that the story revolves around a house rather that a person, this tended to make the characterisation rather weak. Another insight into life during the war from “the other side”. Overall, enjoyable, Marks were:
9, 9, 8, 7, 9, 7, 7
Burley Readers Group