It was January 1st 2005 and my book of choice was Simon Mawer's The Fall because my reading journal tells me so. Just looking at that book again reminds of that glorious day spent reading one of the most unputdownable novels of that year.
Life events have dictated that my reading of The Glass Room by Simon Mawer has been an entirely different reading experience; a fractured start-stop-sleep-start-gap-stop-start so we can but hope that the reveals from the book have distilled into something equally pure and clear.
You see already I can't stop myself locking into the leitmotif that Simon Mawer utilises to the full around the title of his book. If ever a book cover and a title set me up with expectations The Glass Room was the one and I gave it careful thought before I read, what were my expectations? The novel is loosely based around an actual house, the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, in today's Czech Republic.
I jotted down some obvious words,
light, lightness, bright, brightness
lives on display
stone-throwing (as in people in glass houses shouldn't...)
I guess every reader who comes to this book would compile a different list, but it was quite an interesting exercise.
The beautiful modernist cover art titled The Architect by Roger de La Fresnaye was already distorting my image and my perceptions.
The Glass Room itself becomes 230msq of central motif set in the beautiful 1930's architect-designed hillside home of Liesel and Viktor Landauer. Czech car magnate Viktor has money to spend and this house will be the zenith of modern taste, the architect will 'design you a life' he tells Liesel as they contemplate plans, a house of light, beams of horizontal and parallel lines and a symmetry with nature.
The opulence of the onyx wall strategically positioned by architect Rainer von Abt to capture the burnished rays of the setting sun and the vast and retractable wall of glass that allows for that illusion of upward movement when it snows, this is a house designed to maximise every natural feature.
Whilst the house gestates,
'like contemplating a skeleton and trying to work out how the person would have looked',
Liesel's first baby does likewise, developing into
the 'indefinable quality of grace and softness' that will be their
War will intervene and with it will come the nightmare that is the legacy of Viktor's Jewish heritage. Life has become exceedingly complex for Viktor, he cares about too many people and the journey into exile reflects the tangled web that he must try and protect, they have money but will it be enough.
The house meanwhile stands resolute and firm in its foundations, refusing to shatter and will pass from Czech to Nazi to Soviet hands finally returning to the newly created Czechoslovakia and down the years the Glass Room does indeed become the place of revelation, of truths told, of honesty and transparency, of lovers' trysts, frequently a place of safety and security,
' The house has become a refuge for them, the Glass Room, that least fortress-like of constructions, bringing the consolation of reason and calm, while outside the confines of their particular lives, the world is crumbling.'
Likewise all is not light and bright, there will be sinister overtones to the architect's measurements and symmetry too during Nazi occupation.
Whilst the post-war mirroring of pre-war events may have stretched my incredulity a fraction beyond its comfort zone, I was nevertheless impressed all over again by Simon Mawer's writing and by a book that in the end offered that holistic reading experience.
'...the shutter of the photographer's camera makes that repeated mechanical sound, that unlocking and locking of doors of light to send momentary images from the present into the light of the future.'
I can't think of a better way to describe that essence of a book that
makes me use other senses and allows me to capture those images in my mind's eye to keep, because for me the visuals of the
architectural plans, the orthographic drawings (thank you to Bookhound for that) preceding each section led me through to the
book's conclusion and towards one of those moments when you turn a page
and something 'big' happens, something seems to join up.
The elevations are slightly confusing, is that the front, the back, the left side?
Well, they were for me, Bookhound being a technical drawing person looked and had it all mapped out right away, but I just couldn't decide which bit of the house I was looking at until I reached the final drawing (an isometric one I'm informed, there's a difference apparently) which somehow felt like that skeleton now fleshed out.
I had my bearings, a perspective on the house and with it a sense of completeness and now I can't resist sharing a picture of the actual Villa Tugendhat.
There is a simultaneous conclusion for Liesel too, now blind but returning to her home from exile (don't worry you know this will happen on page one)
'Warped, distorted, refracted by the prism of recollection, this is the place that lives in her memory. She was here.'
I feel as if I've been there too.