Thursday, February 18, 2010
People In A Glass House
I'll tell you what. While Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Who I heart in case you don't remember.) was winning the 2009 Booker, Simon Mawer was one of the nominees losing for The Glass Room. He may have won if nominated a different year because his book is splendid but when up against the powerhouse that is my girl Hilary he was an also ran. Indeed who could have competed successfully against all that Mantel exquisiteness? I'd like to say no one but having just finished The Glass Room I have to say that the Booker judges had to make a close call.
The Glass Room starts out in Czechoslovakia in the 1920's. Wealthy newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer have built a modern marvel of a house. It's all clean lines, steel, onyx and glass. The perfect home to see them into a bright future. No reader needs a Magic Eight Ball to see what's coming. It's the 20's, Viktor is an educated Jew and Germany is their backyard. That being said knowing the historical events that will surround the fictional characters of a historical novel in no way precludes your pleasure and respect for the novel. Rather your knowledge of history should be brought to a human level, a sympathetic level by the writer's ability to tell a story within a historical context. That doesn't always happen. It does here.
As the worst of 20th century history moves forward in the novel various people will come and go from the glass house. These are not people who are going to change history this is not that kind of novel. These are the people trying to get through the war and what life brings them next as best they can. The real survivor here is the house. Over a 60 year period history comes to this house nothing happens outside of it. The house is all of us. It doesn't make anything happen it is a mute and static witness.
I don't want to put the hex on The Glass Room by saying it is a novel of ideas but that is exactly what it is-- but that is not all that it is. The brilliant characters and the plot lines are all there to propel the reader along. This isn't a dry, philosophical, God help me when will this end book you had to read for school. This is effulgent writing that views the last 60 years from a very interesting stage. I was quite impressed with The Glass Room.