The Glass Room by Simon Mawer #manbooker

The Glass Room, a new but unusual domestic building, is the centrepiece of the novel by Mawer. Commissioned by newly-weds Victor and Liesel and designed by anti-ornamentalist Rainer von Abt, the house is to be a 'modern living space' in the Mesto hills, on land received as a wedding gift. The house becomes the focus of cultural life in the town, and acts as one of the family as it grows besides the Landauers' first child.

Against a backdrop of political unrest in Europe, the Landauer family live out their modern principles as the family increases in number and grows. Part and parcel of this life is a collection of intelligent and cultured friends, of whom Hana, Liesel's most intimate friend, forms the core. Political inflammation has its toll on the family, who try to pre-empt and evade incarceration, with varying degress of timeliness and success.

The novel, though painted onto a horrific canvas, offers a refreshing perspective on living through such times: the couple act pre-emptively and cautiously, and at times desperately, to ensure their safety and to evade entanglement. Whilst the situation does not leave the family unmarked, the story focuses on survival, with the political landscape acting as driver.

In essence, the novel is about relationships. Victor loves and cares for his family steadily whilst pursuing an illicit affair that takes hold of him in the most brutal way. By chance, his homelife and his secret life become one and his determination to preserve and protect both the family he has created and the family he has discovered has devasting consequences. Liesel is devoted to Victor, and though crushed to learn of his affair, becomes complicit in its continuation. On departing Mesto, Liesel comes to realise how deeply she feels for Hana, whom she has left behind – and whom she fears is lost forever. Their relationship is cast as delicate and long-matured; the longing hana and Liesel feel for each other spans decades and thousands of miles. The Glass Room courts its commissioners and various subsequent occupiers – both friendly and agressive – whilst maintaining its elusive and attractive qualities.

I found this novel stirring and evocative of both longing and intimacy. The narrative is neat, but that isn't to its detriment. It's beautifully written, such that when the sunset hits the Onyx wall, I could actually see the fire ablaze in the stone. I'd be delighted if this book won the Man Booker 2009.

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