Throughout the years of the novel, Mawer uses the Landauer house and the Glass Room in particular as an axis, a turning point on which the story revolves. The sliding panes of the Glass Room act as a curtain to the stage on which the central dramas of the novel are born and play out. The sense of watching, rather than reading, the story is enhanced by Mawer’s shifts from a novelist’s past tense into a story-teller’s present tense. The present tense brings a visual aspect to the story line as we are shown the characters as actors upon a stage.
Eloquently written without being dense or obscure, The Glass Room delivers a luminous, clean-lined story worthy of its namesake. Skillful point-of-view transitions shine the spotlight on each character in turn. The female characters are richly drawn with emotional lives that are depicted poignantly yet without melodrama. However, Mawer displays a tendency to abandon his male characters before they are complete. We see this first with the architect von Abt. Just as we begin to develop a sense of his internal life, he moves to America. This trend follows with many of the other male characters, most noticeably and irksomely with Viktor. Viktor’s restraint and obfuscation even from himself make him a difficult character with whom to connect, but it feels as if his final scenes of the story take place off stage. Granted, in life, it is common to never truly know people before they leave our lives, but in a novel, my preference is to know the central characters a bit better than I felt I knew Viktor.
Despite the tumultuous setting, The Glass Room is a quiet novel: well paced, but without extremes of suspense. Despite this subtlety, emotional lines are drawn with a restrained tension that binds the story. Finally — and this is perhaps the best thing that can be said of any book — like its characters, I didn’t want to leave The Glass Room.