Simon Mawer's The Glass Room is notable for its consistency. In its uniformity of pace and pitch it exploits its subject matter fully and perfectly; it's level, restrained, calm, even when the events it describes are dramatic ones. Was the ending (the reunion of Ottilie and Marika) perhaps a little too neat? If so, in terms of that consistency, I didn't mind.
The house itself, based on Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat in Brno, is such a presence in the book, "a machine for living in" which is a family dwelling and piece of modernist self-expression, becoming a laboratory for experiments on racial characteristics and identity under the Nazis, suffering under Soviet occupation, and later being used as a gymnasium and centre for physiotherapy under the Communists. A place of light and space and purity and "the embodiment of reason" will never again be a home but instead becomes, eventually, a building notable in its own right - of itself, "it just is".
The plot makes much of the strong contrast between the house's serenity and clean, clear lines, its open plan style of living, and the troubled, complicated lives of its owners. The Landauers' indiscretions, the infidelity, deceit, secrets, fear and longing clutter the expanses of near-empty space, and their unfortunate choices and the external events over which they have no control deny them what had seemed to be the limitless possibilities of the future. Their ultimate exile takes the house, der Raum as Simon Mawer explains it in his Afterword, from them forever. The way of life they had envisaged, the Glass Room or Glastraum emblematic of a place in which "democracy would prevail and art and science would combine to bring happiness to all people" was in the end no more than a trick of the light, an optical illusion; it was never to be.
In what I thought was an excellent novel, the prose had its own glass-like quality - smoothly reflecting and refracting the characters' temperaments, translucent or opaque to match their moods, subtle but strong in revealing the emerging story. Reading it was an immersive experience, and I was sorry to leave this very fine book.
What did you think of it?
Edited to add: there is now a cake (of doubtful quality, it must be said) for this book here.