Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Recommendation (of sorts): The Glass Room

I just finished reading The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer.  This book was short-listed last fall for the 2009 Booker Prize (which was eventually captured by Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall), and I have been on a wait list with the public library system since then to borrow this book.  It came in last week - the first of the six short-listed books I have on order with the library place on the wait list for the other five varies from #6 to #176 (for the winner's book).  Ah well, all in good time - maybe I'll get to read the other five before the 2010 booker short list comes out!

Rather than conger up my own words to describe the book's plot, I'll quote from the booker website:

High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a marvel of steel, glass and onyx. Built specially for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile, it is one of the wonders of modernist architecture. But the radiant honesty and idealism of 1930 that the house seems to engender quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of World War Two gather. Eventually, as Nazi troops enter the country, the family, accompanied by Viktor’s lover Kata and her child Marika, must flee.
Yet the family’s exile does not signify the end of this spectacular building. It slips from hand to hand, from Czech to Nazi to Soviet and finally back to the Czechoslovak state, the crystalline perfection of the Glass Room always exerting a gravitational pull on those who know it. It becomes a laboratory, a shelter from the storm of war, and a place where the broken and the ruined find some kind of comfort, until with the collapse of Communism, the Landauers are finally drawn back to where their story began.
Perhaps I need more time to think about whether I'd recommend this book or not...because I feel rather torn about it.  Mawer is a lovely writer, in my opinion, and his book is an unusual perspective on WWII. As I reflect on the central theme of the house featured throughout it, it seems to me that it is the house which is really the primary character of the novel; even as the human protagonists come and go, to a degree, the house remains.  These aspects intrigue me about the book, as do some of the complex relationships.  I also thought that the ending was very fitting.

Still, there's something that troubles me about the book that stops me just short of knowing whether to recommend it.  I didn't particularly like one of the main (human) characters, Viktor, and feel like his character could have been (should have been) much more deeply plundered; and I simply didn't like the character of his wife, Liesel.  In addition, there is something about the looseness of relationships throughout the book that troubles me; though this may, in fact, be a draw for some readers.  I won't say more in this regard, for fear of spoiling the read for anyone else.

I will say that elements of the book will stay with me for some time - this alone may pull me out of indecision and suggest that you, too, read the book...which is really a recommendation, is it not? Another test for me:  would I read another of Mawer's books, based on my read of this one?  The answer to this, too, is yes, I would.  So there you have it:  a recommendation...I think.

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