Simon Mawer - The Glass Room

There is a real house in Brno, Czechoslovakia designed by the architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe for the Tugendhat family who were forced to escape to Switzerland when the Nazis moved in to Czechoslovakia. Simon Mawer has used this house as the basis for his story and the house is very much the central character.

In this fictional version, the architect is reimagined as Reiner von Abt and the house is commissioned by the Landauer family - Victor and Liesel - after meeting the architect while honeymooning in Venice.

I loved the descriptions of the design process, the building of the house, against the backdrop of the building political crises in Europe and then the family struggles with children, nannies, friends and false friends. Eventually, with fiction imitating life once again, Victor and Liesel are forced to leave their dream home and escape from Czechoslovakia in advance of the incoming Nazis.

The house is annexed for use as a clinic with sinister purposes during the war and subsequently occupied by the incoming Russians.

All through the book I kept changing my allegiance between the characters. There is no real hero or heroine - they are all equally complex and flawed but that makes the book even more engaging.

The Glass Room was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. I listened to it on audio book shortly afterwards and it has haunted me ever since.

First Published 2009

416 pages

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