Der Glasraum

The Glass Space.

For the moment it was without form or substance, yet it existed, diffuse, diverse, in their minds and in the mind of Rainer von Abt. It existed in the manner that ideas and ideals, shifting and insubstantial, may exist. Space, light, glass; some spare furniture; windows looking out on a garden; a sweep of shining floor, travertine, perhaps; white and ivory and the gleam of chrome. The elements moved, evolved, transformed, metamorphosed in the way that they do in dreams, changing shape and form and yet, to the dreamer, remaining what they always were: der Glasraum, der Glastraum, a single letter change metamorphosing one into the other, the Glass Space becoming the Glass Dream, a dream that went with the spirit of the brand new country in which they found themselves, a state in which being Czech or German or Jew would not matter, in which democracy would prevail and art and science would combine to bring happiness to all people.

Some [lazy] notes on The Glass Room by Simon Mawer:

∎ What a generous book. The depth of the characters, their inner lives, the very lives this novel traces. Bachelard quotes Baudelaire, that in a palace, “there is no space for intimacy.” But in the Glass Room, the Landauer House, despite the openness and the clarity of view, the stories are so intimate.

∎ Mawer’s manipulation of the house as character, as setting, as framing device, as conceit. The stories contain parallelisms—echoes and organic-ness Not unlike light bouncing against panes of glass, no?

∎ Mawer is aware of the metaphors that lie in wait. Glass, after all, is rife with symbolism. He makes use of them, takes advantage of it. And blessedly makes them new, with only the rare misstep against subtlety. And even these missteps, I could see as deliberate techniques—everything in this book feels precise. A sweeping declarations, generalities thrown in. The narrator decisively stepping in to say things like: “. . . the Glass Room has that effect, of liberating people from the structures and conventions of the ordinary, of making them transparent.”

And the daring is awe-inspiring. For example, the moment of the fracture of the Landauer’s marriage is not declared, not even shown. It is told us. The narrator once again swoops in and tells us that the initial spark has gone. We, instead, watch the aftermath:

Perhaps this was what one expected as a relationship matured: love translated into affection, and lust into a kind of placid contentment.

This comes dangerously close to editorializing, but it works. You think this is a book about the disintegration of a marriage. But that erosion only feels like part of a natural progression. Which actually makes it sadder for me.

∎ He, too, makes use of the flexibilities of meaning across languages. In the afterword, Mawer notes:

Raum is an expansive word. It is spacious, vague, precise, conceptual, literal, all those things. From the capacity of the coffee cup in one’s hand, to the room one is sitting in to sip from it, to the district of the city in which the café itself stands, to the very void above our heads, outer space, der Weltraum There is room to move in Raum.

And one of the characters, one of the later occupants of the Landauer House, Tomáš—he uses the word pokoj for the room. Pokoj, meaning peace, tranquility, quiet. “Thus does one language fail to make itself felt in another,” Tomáš notes, and I agree. But he is also so very wrong. Language so expansive and so inclusive still.

∎ Goddamn, I miss books so willing to give you a story, rich characters, history. I want to read more books that are books you can get lost in. I want more books like this, more and more and more–books that will take more than a post or two to fully discuss, appreciate, sigh over.

NB – I babbled earlier about Simon Mawer—specifically, how I read The Glass Room with Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. If anyone is interested by my essentially inane ramblings, here they are.

PSA – I bought The Glass House from Powerbooks Greenbelt 3 for PhP599. It belongs to this monstrosity of a book loot that I’ve barely touched. Also, for those who want an about-the-book that makes more sense, here is the publisher’s page.

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5 comments

  1. I bought this one awhile ago and thought it would be a beautifully moving book. I just haven’t had a chance to read it yet!

  2. Jennifer · · Reply

    *flailing* This book sounds AMAZING. The thematicness of it all — intimacy, glass, light, reflections… Will add to my to-read list!

  3. […] details the history of a house and its many inhabitants through the years. Yes, it reminded me of a recent read, though Erpenbeck’s prose [translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky] is this dense glorious […]

  4. Hi, Stephanie, Jennifer. Yes, lush, moving, and expansive. And lots and lots of delicious metaphors. I hope that the next time you see this book, you lunge for it. :)

  5. This has been circling around in my consciousness for a while and I’ve been meaning to get to it. But I think I’d better get to it sooner rather than later now I’ve read your post!

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