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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

On Elegance While Sleeping

Viscount Lascano Tegui

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To purchase On Elegance While Sleeping

Title: On Elegance While Sleeping
Author: Viscount Lascano Tegui
Genre: Novel
Written: 1925 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: On Elegance While Sleeping - US
De la elegancia mientras se duerme - US
On Elegance While Sleeping - UK
On Elegance While Sleeping - Canada
Élégance des temps endormis - France
Von der Anmut im Schlafe - Deutschland
Sogno senza fine - Italia
  • Spanish title: De la elegancia mientras se duerme
  • Translated by Idra Novey
  • With an Introduction by Celina Manzoni

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Our Assessment:

A- : surprising, subtle, well-crafted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 4/12/2010 Nicholas Lezard
TLS . 4/2/2011 Anthony Cummins
Wall Street Journal . 4/12/2010 Jessica Loudis
Die Zeit . (4/1996) Dietrich Lueckoff

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hat a treat it is. From the self-penned epigraph (...) and the opening entry for the fictitious diary, where someone says of his manicured hands "that man's taken such good care of his hands, the only thing left is to murder someone with them", it becomes clear that we are in the company of a true original. (...) But there is, despite the book's brevity, and the fact that it is enormously pleasurable to read (at which point let me salute the translation) much going on. There are strange resonances, which suggest a strong aesthetic integrity, and it is not a portrait of a one-dimensional man. (...) It was around that point -- about 40 pages in -- that I realised I was reading something approaching a work of genius; something no one else could have written." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Yet for all the horror, the abiding sense is less disquiet than indulgent amusement: at the spectacle of a young writer busy staking his claim to the avant-garde, not simply by repudiating good taste, but by rejecting both momentum and sincerity as the basis of fiction." - Anthony Cummins, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Tegui's bizarre novella is styled as a journal and reminiscent of a fever dream." - Jessica Loudis, Wall Street Journal

  • "Die schwarze Romantik seiner Phantasie äußert sich in einer immer schillernder sich zersetzenden, den Surrealismus vorwegnehmenden Bildlichkeit der Sprache." - Dietrich Lueckoff, Die Zeit

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:

       On Elegance While Sleeping is an odd work of fiction. While it is presented in diary-form, with relatively short, dated entries, these are concerned less with the protagonist's present than his past: it is a work of comprehensive -- rather than mainly current -- autobiography, scenes from a life .....
       The story is set in the nineteenth century -- the entries are made over the course of five years, each specifying day and month but the years recorded only as "18--".
       The writer is from the Parisian suburb Bougival:

The Seine flows through our village. Fleeing from Paris. Its dark green waters drag in the grime from that happy city.
       Among the things they also drag in are the corpses, and when he was a youth the writer showed a remarkable ability to find and fish these out -- something that made him one of the villages "favorite sons".
       Here as elsewhere, Lascano Tegui has his protagonist present even the most sensationalistic material almost casually, parts of a life that deserve (off-hand) mention but even if indulged in -- such as a description of being sexually molested, or the local madwoman who offered herself under the local bridges (after being traumatized by having her alcoholic father calmly cut off his own penis in front of her) -- are done so in a very casual manner. Typically, he records:
     Syphilis is a civilized disease, and I intend to declare my allegiance to its aesthetic. I acquired it in the most charming of ways. Suffice it to say, she who bestowed this gift upon me did so with the same ease and elegance as the doves of Aphrodite must alight upon the breasts of sleeping women ...
       It's an effective -- and effectively unsettling -- approach, and just right for this narrator who maintains an equanimity of tone even when describing great horror, and yet who ultimately loses that composure in his desire to: "see something more, to feel something new" (finding even then, however: "but that was all there was").
       He is a bookish sort, from his childhood attempts to "undermine my appearance" by adopting the wardrobes of the characters in whatever novels he was reading to his own writerly ambitions (he's thinking about writing: "a book that would be a sort of symptomatic journal of my disease", its working title: 'The Syphilis of Don Juan'). He also suggests:
     Novelists overplay their hands when they put an end to their characters with some catastrophe -- a terrible fire, a murder, what have you. They don't trust in the asphyxiating monotony of everyday life.
       The everyday life the writer describes is often far from monotonous -- there's that man who emasculates himself, for one, and there is also murder ... -- but in his presentation he practically wants to muffle it through monotony. But Lascano Tegui's elegant, sprightly style won't allow for that: if there is a uniformity of tone -- a monotone of sorts, in other words -- it's nevertheless an entirely riveting one. The writer tries his best -- "No, no verse ! No music ! Let us just be as we are: unfinished things without rhythm" -- but finds himself, in Lascano Tegui's rendering, in a work of art.
       A wonderful and wonderfully bizarre little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 January 2011

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On Elegance While Sleeping: Reviews: Other books by Emilio Lascano Tegui under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Emilio Lascano Tegui -- who called himself a 'Viscount', though he wasn't -- lived 1887 to 1966.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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