Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Glasshouse by Allan Campbell McLean

The Glasshouse by Allan Campbell McLean
First published in the UK in 1968. Republished by Endeavour Press in November 2015.

My 11th book for the Read Scotland Challenge 2015

One of my WorldReads from Scotland.

Where to buy this book:

How I got this book:
Downloaded a copy via the publisher's newsletter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Austria, 1945. World War II is drawing to a close, but RAF signals clerk David Fraser is only just beginning a 112 day sentence at the infamous Glasshouse military prison. The name alone is enough to have the bravest of soldiers quaking in their boots. For the prisoners, their stay is an unimaginable nightmare of physical and mental torture. For the guards, it provides an unrivalled outlet for their own anger and frustration. It’s not long before Fraser’s defiant attitude begins to merit the unwanted attention of the sadistic prison wardens. Staff Evans quickly forms a relentless vendetta against Fraser, taking delight in watching him inch ever closer to breaking point. But following the announcement of Japan’s surrender, will the end of the war come too late for Fraser and his sanity? Will he be able to survive the psychological torment, physical punishment and endless solitary confinement? Or will he be just another victim of the Glasshouse?

I chose The Glasshouse primarily for its Scottish connections because I am not a great fan of military fiction, however the novel turned out to be a gripping and thought-provoking read. It is set towards the end of the Second World War. Peace has already been declared in Europe and the Americans have just dropped their first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. World-changing events are kept from the prisoners in the Glasshouse though. This British military prison for British soldiers is completely isolated from the outside world, both by high walls and by the insane mania of its guards.

Author Allan Campbell Mclean was himself incarcerated in one of these bizarre institutions during the time period of which he writes so, although his novel is fictitious, it is strongly rooted in remembered fact and this makes reading the book a horrifying experience. Prisoners are treated as less than human by guards who are drunk on power, or just plain drunk, and viciously sadistic, egged on by a mentally disturbed commandant who, to my way of thinking anyway, should not even be allowed command of himself! One particular scene - prisoners building a pyramid from huge timber planks only to have to tear it down and start again when it was complete - reminded me of the forced labour in Martin Sherman's play Bent, where concentration camp prisoners undertook similarly pointless forced labour.

What was most shocking for me were the violently bigoted attitudes displayed by so many characters. Mclean's writing made every one of these men believably real and I do hope that our armed forces no longer display such outrageous racism, xenophobia and misogyny. The Glasshouse is a brilliant piece of writing that perfectly captures a certain place and time. I can't actually say that I enjoyed reading the book - its subject matter doesn't really lend itself to the word, but I am certainly glad to have read it.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Allan Campbell McLean / War fiction / Books from Scotland

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