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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

La sexta lámpara

Pablo de Santis

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Title: La sexta lámpara
Author: Pablo de Santis
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 183 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: La sexta lámpara - US
Die sechste Laterne - Deutschland
  • La sexta lámpara has not been translated into English yet

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Our Assessment:

B : creative architectural fantasy, but putters about a bit too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 14/8/2007 Leopold Federmair
Página|12 . 2/8/2005 Juan Pablo Bertazza

  From the Reviews:
  • "La sexta lámpara, que amaga con ser la biografía de un personaje apócrifo, está estructurada a partir de cien capítulos cortos, dispuestos a manera de pisos de una gran construcción, y su ingeniero y maestro mayor de obra logra un muy buen manejo de la incógnita, adscribiéndose a un realismo que siempre le deja alguna ventana abierta a lo fantástico. Entre la construcción clásica y concisa del cuento, y la forma detallista y con ansias de totalidad de la novela, su lectura, con ciertos atisbos del Guillermo Martínez novelista y del checo Leo Perutz (autor de culto de El maestro del juicio final), nos da la placentera sensación de estar recorriendo -- vertiginosamente y en ascensor -- los distintos niveles de un rascacielos. Un rascacielos que, sin menospreciar el valor de la utopía, tiene la inestimable virtud pragmática de ser -- en este caso sí -- un proyecto acabado." - Juan Pablo Bertazza, Página/12

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       La sexta lámpara is a novel presented in exactly one-hundred chapters that tells the story of the life and career of an Italian architect, Silvio Balestri, who emigrates to New York city around World War I. A brief prologue describes a contemporary find of Balestri's papers, while the rest of the novel follows his life more or less chronologically -- though it begins with the Caylus Museum, a repository for models of buildings that were never built. (The owner took this very seriously: occasionally some of the abandoned projects were taken up after all, and the structures realized -- in which case the model was removed from the exhibit and destroyed.) The centerpiece of the museum was Balestri's ziggurat, his grand vision that, as we know from it being part of the museum, was never built.
       In very short chapters De Santis describes Baletri's single-minded but not always easy pursuit of his architectural dreams. Women, in particular, fare rather poorly with him, used in part as stepping stones and never really treated adequately by him; women are also his downfall, as his first wife disappeared early on and he chose to identify a body as being hers in order to extricate himself from that union -- an act which later comes back to haunt him.
       His American architectural career begins in the copyists' sub-cellars at Moran, Morley & Mactran, a large firm where there seems to be little communication between the various offices and parts. Generally no one escapes the sub-cellar, but Balestri does -- thrust to the firm's very heights, where the three leading architects show the way. There is a price, however, to his rise: there is a leak somewhere in the firm, with every latest innovation quickly copied by the competition, and it can only be one of the three leading figures that is responsible; Balestri has to find out who the mole is and rat him out.
       The 'sexta lámpara' of the title refers to an ultra-secret club of architects; they take their name from the six lamps that were lit at their meeting place, but it is also, of course, a reference to John Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture. The sometimes theoretically-minded Balestri attracts their attention -- but they also make demands of him; when he doesn't do as they wish, they crush him.
       Balestri finds some hope again when one of the firm-heads, Mactran, finds in Balestri's ziggurat ambitions some hope for his super-agoraphobic daughter, a woman who can only stand interiority. Balestri even winds up marrying her, and construction on the ziggurat -- a wonderfully elaborate design -- begins. But, as we know, it won't be finished.
       As its hundred-chapter presentation and architectural theme suggests, La sexta lámpara is a carefully designed novel, and De Santis weaves a good deal into it, from a long-nameless cat to the early twentieth-century world and its opportunities, well represented by the structures of the day. Architectural theory (and fantasies) play a role, but De Santis carefully doses this and his other underpinnings -- language, history, personal communication. It makes for a short novel that feels slightly underwhelming, with clever and occasionally arresting ideas foundering a bit in a story that too often simply putters along.
       It's an appealing enough quick read, but not quite as substantial or thrilling as the many ideas presented in it would have led one to believe.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 July 2010

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La sexta lámpara: Reviews: Other books by Pablo De Santis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Pablo De Santis was born in 1963.

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