REVIEW: The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

The Glass Room
By Simon Mawer
Completed April 10, 2011

Many forces come into play when I select a book to read. Often, I rely upon the reviews and comments of other book readers whose opinions are like mine. I also take into consideration any literary awards, which often tip me off to a great book. And, of course, the story must sound compelling.

Using this process, I picked The Glass Room, which seemed to be a sure-fire win for me. Several of my like-minded friends raved about this book. It was short-listed for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, which I usually have good luck with. And the plot of a Czech family caught up in the tragedy of World War II should be up my alley.

Even the best laid plans can go array, though. Sadly, that is what happened when I read The Glass Room. Despite my best efforts, this book didn’t click for me.

Let me express the good qualities of this book first. First, Mawer’s writing style is descriptive and rich. He can paint a picture in the mind’s eye, which helps propel his novel. Additionally, he did a great job incorporating the arts into the novel. With an architectural feat such as the Glass House, that’s an important thing to do, but he also wove in music, painting and sculpture – and did so beautifully. Finally, the plight of early Czechoslovakia as it struggled to get its legs between the World Wars was illuminating, and I learned more about this aspect of history.

Here’s where I struggled: the characterization. It was very one-dimensional, and as a result, I didn’t like one character. Perhaps I would have liked them more if Mawer had given me more information about them. His characterization centered around their sex lives. Each character’s lives were qualified by their sexual activity or desires. Making this worse was the unequal descriptions about sex. Mawer fills us with intimate details about the female characters – the size of their breasts, the color of their nipples, the roundness of their bellies, the texture of their pubic hairs. However, with the male characters, we got nothing – not even a chest hair. Sex was definitely told from a male perspective in this story.

I am in the minority when it comes to The Glass House, so I encourage you to read other reviews before deciding on this book. Many other readers were moved by this story, and you might be too. As for me, I am happy that The Glass House is over and ready to find a book that better fits my fickle tastes. (  )

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