Friday, May 4, 2012
Athena K's Review - The Glass Room
Some parts of this novel are still resonating with me, like the sound of metal falling against the onyx wall of the Glass Room. Other parts of the novel dragged - it seemed new characters were introduced simply as an excuse for creating suspense and prolonging the climax. Still, it was an interesting read, engaging at parts - and a worthy Booker nominee.
The novel features the lives and family of Liesel and Viktor Landauer, a mixed German and Jewish couple living in Czechoslovakia after Europe's Great War, and also featuresLiesel's closest friend Hana Hanakova, a truly modern Slavic woman. However the house in which the Glass Room of the title resides is really the main character of this novel - we follow its life from its conception and design, to its construction, and then following its various occupants through World War II and post-war behind the Iron Curtain up to the 1990's. The Glass Room stands as a symbol of openness and modernity to the Landauers: a place of light, and steel and glass and air. It is a place of romance and dreams as well. But to its various occupants, this symbolism seems ironic and hypocritical. The "openness" is belied when Viktor harbors his mistress within the walls of the room. The Nazis warp the "modernity" it symbolizes by using the house to study human forms for the purpose of identifying and categorizing members of each race. And the dreams of the future are battered down under the footsteps of the sick and injured children who go to the house under the Soviet regime to be rehabilitated.
I very much liked the themes and setting of this novel, but other parts of it did not work as well. While I found the character of Hana to be engaging, interesting and always surprising, other main characters, including Viktor and Liesel, were much less compelling. Also, there was something clinical in the description of the house itself that permeated the entire novel - it was distancing and a bit off-putting. Lovely, but a bit sterile.