In The Glass Room, which rightly earned a place on the Booker shortlist in 2009, Simon Mawer demonstrated a rare talent for nuance that lifted the book out of the simplistic confines of popular fiction. At its core is Mies van der Rohe’s magical modernist house, Tugendhat Villa, on the outskirts of Brno in what was Czechoslovakia at the time it was built. There are coincidences galore in the plot and an abundance of the kinds of details one expects from an old-fashioned family saga, but these are of small consequence when set beside the visionary quality that informs the entire novel. The reader gets to know and admire the house and to occupy the exquisitely described glass room. Even more impressive are the portraits of the Jewish car manufacturer Viktor Landauer, his Gentile wife, Liesel, and the uncompromising architect Rainer von Abt. The time is the early 1930s, when Nazism was struggling out of its infancy. History dictates that the Landauers will have to abandon Der Glasraum, leaving it for the Nazis to despoil. Yet the room itself survives, in all its luminosity.
Mawer’s latest book, Tightrope, is a sequel of sorts to its predecessor, The Girl Who Fell from