Before I went on holiday, I read The Glass Room for the reading circle. I started off feeling, now this is a relief after the last fragmented book – a traditionally written literary novel. However, some of my feeling of appreciation faded away during the course of the book, which I felt lost its way a bit and for me lost impact in the latter half.
The Glass Room is based on a real building in Czechoslovakia - the Villa Tugendhat, designed in the late 1920s by Mies van der Rohe, which (I quote) is a celebration of steel, glass and space, an enduring reminder that modern materials can make for exquisitely sculptural architecture. (Personally, I have never been convinced by this modern preference for glass and steel. Bricks are much more homely and cosy. To work in an office with a huge window is a nightmare in summer - as I found out in a very modern building at a temp. job in Guildford.) However, let’s put all that to one side and get back to the book.
I was very interested in the couple who first instigate the design and building of the house, Viktor and Liesel, who having built the place, need to leave it, when Viktor, a Jew, becomes aware how Nazism is sweeping through Europe. The problem for me here is that while they leave the house, we do not follow them through their lives. Instead, we are forced to revisit the house and see who else occupies it in the ensuring years. The author may have been fascinated by the house, but I was not, and seeing that Viktor and Liesel had occupied a large percentage of the book, the other characters introduced later seemed irrelevant to me.
Others have commented on the coincidences which also take place in the book, some of which I was prepared to forgive, but others seemed contrived. At my book group, we also noticed the amount of fairly explicit sex that took place. As someone commented, the only thing left out, was a variation with animals. Was it necessary? I didn’t think so, myself.
The wartime events were of the most significant to me – and I particularly noticed how Liesel was reluctant to leave Czechoslovakia, even though the Germans had invaded Austria and subsequently, the Sudetenland. She didn’t think they should worry about things across the borders. That, of course, was the downfall of many victims of Nazism – that they couldn’t believe that it would happen in their land.