Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mawer's Glass Room

New York: Other Press, c2009.
416 p.

I'll just give a quick rundown on this book, shortlisted for the 2009 Booker, on a serious theme by a well respected author.

It is about a house, primarily: a house which represents the coming of the new era of modernism. It is in Czechoslovakia, created by an Austrian architect for a rich couple, Viktor and Liesel Landauer. This is just before the war, so you know that Jewish Viktor will not be staying long.

And yet the book is not really about the war or the Holocaust directly. It deals with the house as a symbol of all the changes in society, and the changing aesthetic in art over the century. After the couple who had it built flee the country, it falls into the hands of the Nazis, then the Russians, then becomes part of a state hospital which allows it to slowly fall into disrepair.

I like books with a house at the centre. I usually find them wonderful, a story revolving around a fixed point. This particular house offered an obvious metaphor for the story, and was lovingly described as an object as well as a symbol of larger things.

However, perhaps it was my mood, or my state of mind, but I couldn't get into this book. I tried, patiently reading a few pages every day, then skimming a little and trying really hard to get the point. I felt that I was missing something, obviously, as I was not caught up in the tale at all. The characters are all okay, I just didn't connect to them. The setting is wonderful, but I was feeling a bit grey and bored by it. Sigh. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this reading experience, and don't have much to say about it as I only skimmed the last quarter of the book. Read a few other reviews for some actual substance, some meaningful response to a story that by all accounts is something to pay attention to.

Isabella at Magnificent Octopus loved The Glass Room (and talks about the real house which inspired the Landauer house)

Caitlin at Chaotic Compendiums finds Mawer's writing "cliched and relentless" and doomed by predictability (whew, I am not alone...)


  1. Sigh. Yes, this book was quite the disappointment for me. There's a lot that I liked about it--Mawer's use of language is wonderful, and I liked the use of the house. But, oh, the characters. So, so predictable. And eventually the story wore thin.

  2. It's been sitting in my to-be-read pile now for about a month. I even picked it up this week but I'm already working on a long book so I thought I'd choose a shorter one instead. Now you've piqued my curiosity. Maybe next week ...

  3. Oh...too bad. I have read several reviews either really favorable or very middle of the road. I bought the book and am real curious how I will like this one? Thanks for your honest feedback.

  4. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like this book - I loved it!

    I wasn't a fan of the first few chapters, where the house was being built, (I'm not a big architecture fan) but once the house was built I couldn't put it down. It was one of my favourite reads of 2009 and I was sad it didn't win the Booker prize.

  5. Teresa - I think that was it: I couldn't feel anything for the characters.

    maryb - there has been such a variety of opinions on this one, I'll look for your review to come

    Diane - it's true, it is one of those love or hate books I think -- will have to see what your take is too.

    Jackie - that's funny, I liked the house building part and got bored after that! ;) Interesting how this book has had so many different responses.

  6. You can add me to the list of readers who loved this book. I thought Mawer's writing was just amazing...and although I was worried that the book might drag, I found I couldn't put it down. Thanks for sharing your thoughts...I always appreciate an honest assessment of a book even if I had a different reaction to it :)


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