The Glass House

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Victor Genscher, orphaned at the end of World War II, roams the streets living by his wits and is taken in by Ludwig Levison, who runs a hostel for homeless boys, who are obliged to have sex with him and to whom Ludwig sees himself as a father figure.

Victor is Ludwig’s favorite, and when Ludwig discovers Victor’s trysts with a local girl, he feels betrayed. When the girl and her father are murdered, Victor accuses Ludwig and nearly kills him in a savage beating; in his rage, he does kill one of Ludwig’s employees. Soon afterward, Victor runs away to sea, and the two assume that they have seen the last of each other.

Years later, Ludwig learns that Victor has elevated himself to a position of success as financial adviser to the wealthy Rommer family, and he vows to ruin him. Johanna Rommer, heir to the Rommer fortune and Victor’s onetime fiancee, unwittingly becomes a pawn in Ludwig’s plot to expose Victor. Sigi, a likable boy hired by Ludwig to pump Johanna for information about Victor, falls in love with her and supplies her with the details of Victor’s history of theft, homosexuality, and murder.

This gracefully written novel, which is on one level an engaging thriller, contains elements of a tragic romance. The chapters alternate between omniscient narration and excerpts from Johanna’s diaries, as she struggles to overcome her feelings about Victor, who broke off their engagement for reasons she does not completely understand. These events come to a climax as Victor confronts Ludwig and Johanna comes to terms with Victor, finally enlightened about his devious nature. THE GLASS HOUSE succeeds in its portrayal of characters and its depiction of postwar Germany and is overall a witty and readable novel.