Randi Hernandez
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A Book Review of The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Front cover of the U.S. release

Front cover of the U.S. release

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer is the story of a married couple, Viktor and Liesel Landauer, who marry in the 1930’s and start a life together in Czechoslovakia around the dawn of WW II. Viktor, a wealthy Jewish man who manufactures luxury calls (called “Landauers”) and Liesel, his cheerful, gentile wife, receive a large piece of land from Liesel’s parents as a wedding gift. With the help of a modern, cutting-edge architect named Rainer von Abt (who proclaims, “Ornament is crime!”), the couple manage to erect and decorate a gorgeous home, albeit perhaps too futuristic for many of their guests. Besides an entire wall made of solid onyx, the most memorable and symbolic structure throughout the whole story is a room entirely enclosed by glass (The Glass Room) which “has that effect, of liberating people from the strictures and conventions of the ordinary, or making them transparent” (pg. 96).

In fact, every time Mawer wants to illustrate that a character is thinking clearly, or is of an “open” spirit, he references The Glass Room, contesting that the Glass Room promotes transparency. As in the below example:

…”that they pursued their ideal of a modern house that would be adapted to the future rather than the past, to the openness of modern living rather than the secretive and stullified life of the previous century”

(pg. 25) or

“This glass house says who Liesel and I are. In our wonderful glass house you can see everything.”

(pg. 76).

Mawer draws parallels; he points out similarities between the architecture in the Landhauer home and the characters’ actions or feelings. Yet these comparisons are more effective when they are slightly more abstract and indirect (rather than pointing out the glass is “clear”)/. For example, Leisel’s suggestive friend Hanna gets dangerously close to Viktor one evening, and reveals that dhe knows about the extramarital affair she knows Viktor is having, whispering, ‘What’s her name?’ The sentence that immediately follows in the next paragraph is:

“Viktor has come to recognize the signs when visitors enter the Glass Room for the first time.

” Beautiful sentence architecture!

Author Mawer uses symbolism when he describes Viktor’s mistress as a structure, having “none of the pure lines that von Abt applauds, that Viktor himself admires, but instead the broken, refracted shapes of light and colour, the shameless curves of a woman unobserved” (pg 107). This contrasts greatly with Viktor’s home, which has modern, clean lines and flat surfaces – much like his wife.

One of the most unusual (and extremely distracting) things about the novel is the choice/placement of the words in the character dialogue when they spoke to one another. The awkward sentences, including

“Your Liesel is attracted only by you”


“I would happily take you immediately, right here at the table.” If both Viktor and Liesel could speak Russian and Czech, and they were in Czechoslovakia, why did it seem like they were trying to use English throughout the book?

M.I.S.S. Dee and I play Book Club. See what she thinks of the book too!

R: Whoa, AIM, this looks way different than it did in 1997 last time I used it.
So in your opinion, what does The Glass Room (the actual room) symbolize?

D: Well, the two main characters are a lot more modern than the people surrounding them. To me, the glass room symbolizes the protection they build around themselves. They’re able to look out and see the change in the world while not allowing it to consume them.

R: They can see everything clearly and communicate effectively.

D: Right. But it doesn’t stop the influences of the outside world from coming in and affecting their relationship. But that’s like everything in the world, there’s always a safe haven for some of us.

R: I enjoyed the book, but I found that the architecture references used to symbolize/describe the characters got very tedious. Do you agree?

D: Totally. I think the plot and interactions between the characters get lost in the detail.

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One Response to “A Book Review of The Glass Room by Simon Mawer”

  1. Justbookclc says:

    The Glass Room holds many things: war, turmoil, loss, joy, and love in its many shades, “tastes and scents”. The glass room becomes the physical container of these things, a stage. The lucid prose and tight storyline ensure that the book does not labour under the weight of its symbolism.


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