Something to think about, reading slowly and to the end – and yes, I did read the full article and I do take time out from the internet every so often: in ‘Read this slowly, Patrick Kinglsey in yesterday’s G2 section of the Guardian comments on the fact that most of us are no longer capable of reading articles through till the end, let alone give ourselves the time to savour books fully.
Actually, despite always being in a hurry, I do enjoy being away from the internet, mobile phone and all other distractions and simply read a book… It means being able to get away from research, report writing, responding to e-mails.
I have just finished Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room, which is an impressive book and deserves all the time you can give to it. I did not really want to skip anything, or hurry to the end, as I enjoyed the story, the way it was presented in different, short chapters and which has as its central focus a house, a modern piece of architecture (at the time). The house is designed by a famous architect, Rainier von Abt, for Viktor and Liesel Landauer, in the late 1920s. They live in it, until they are forced to leave Czechoslovakia just before the Anschluss, as Viktor is a Jew.
What is interesting, and amazingly done, is that the concept of the Glass Room and this house (called the Landauer house in the book) is based on an actual house, Villa Tugendhat which was designed by the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built between 1928 and 1930 in Brno.
The Glass Room is the living area, divided by an onyx wall, and becomes the setting where across the years people come together then separate and eventually meet up again. It is also where the space and light invite a kind of separation, a focus on what is happening inside the room, it is where people want to come together, where couples make love and then lose each other, and the way this unfolds is quite amazingly done. At the start of the book, Viktor and Liesel Landauer have just been married and commission Von Abt to build their house in Mesto, a fictional town in Czechoslovakia. But as the world around them falls apart so does their marriage, nevertheless the Glass Room survives the war and its aftermath. Viktor and Liesel and their two children escape, first to Switzerland, where as readers we lose track of them and then Liesel turns up again, much later, in America, with her two children. Other stories are woven into the story of the Glass Room. There’s Hanna, Liesel’s friend, who survives and then other people come and go with the flow of Nazi occupation, Russian occupation and with the Jews persecuted, lovers meeting in the Glass Room and separating, a history that seems to mirror whatever is happening in the glass room or vice versa.
I absolutely loved this book and disagree with James Prudon’s review in the Observer last April, when he says that there is a sentimental coda: I think that is something that you could be intend on finding in it, as if everything is too much part of a carefully drawn up plan. I think that it is a clever discovery of ways in which lives come together and fall apart, in the same way that history does.
Yes, definitely a book to read slowly and absorb!