Should Your Book Club Read The Glass Room by Simon Mawer?

This is an easy one.  The answer is absolutely yes.  Not only did everyone love this book, it made for a lively discussion in all my Literary Masters book groups.

The Glass Room was short-listed for the Man Booker last year, but defeated by The Finkler Question.  Go figure.  I had never read anything by Simon Mawer, but now I’m looking forward to picking up The Fall, recommended by one of my Literary Masters members.

Quick plot summary:  It’s the late 1920’s in Czechoslovakia.  Victor and Leisl Landauer want to build a house that embodies the future and that has nothing to do with the past.  They hire an architect who doesn’t build walls and ceilings–instead he captures space and light.  Blazing the trail of what will come to be known as the modernist movement in architecture, he builds the Landauer couple a glass house, the main feature of which is the glass room, a sanctuary of calm, reason, and scientific rationality.

The thing is, a lot goes on inside this sanctuary, not all of it calm, reasonable or rational at all.

The book takes us through about 7 decades, and during that time we watch as various characters–with various agendas–enter and leave the glass room.  Do they transform it?  Does it transform them?  That was something we discussed at length in our meetings.

Simon Mawer is a wonderful writer, so it’s easy to speed through this book; I found it to be a compelling page-turner.  But there’s a lot there to think about and reflect upon, so it’s worth slowing down and savoring this novel.  The characters are intriguing, to say the least, and we talked about them in depth–their motivations, their desires, their self-delusions.  How they tried to escape their histories–as well as their present places in time–but to no avail.  And we talked about them as metaphors for what was going on at that time in the world.

Besides the characters, some of the things your book club may want to discuss:  What the glass room represents.  We started off each meeting with this question, and you’d be amazed at the various answers!  I always find it fascinating that we can read the same words and interpret them differently.  Don’t forget to discuss the onyx wall!

You can all think about what this book is saying about history.  The structure of the book, with its many parallels and echoes, adds much to this conversation.

This novel explores big ideas, and your book club may want to do the same.  Science versus God, Nature versus Nurture, Science versus Art, Fate/destiny versus Randomness/chaos, Darwinism, Existentialism–they are all in there in some way, and you can have fun ‘digging deep’ into this literary treasure.  (I am only touching on some of the themes in the book here–I’m telling you, it is chock full!)

The Glass Room is not a perfect book, but it has so many wonderful qualities, a reader can easily put up with the two annoying aspects of it (as mentioned by reader after reader)–the ending, and the continual coincidences that pepper the story and strain credibility.  I happened to find neither annoying, and I think the coincidences underscore one of the main themes of the book, that is fate/destiny versus randomness/chaos.

I feel very comfortable highly recommending this book for an individual reader as well as for book groups.  I cannot believe that The Finkler Question won the Man Booker over The Glass Room, but that’s a discussion and a blog post for another day!  Please let me know if your book club reads The Glass Room–and what you all think of it.

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