Press & Reviews
  • Reviews for A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pineiro
  • A Crack in the Wall |  Claudia Pineiro |  Review
Reviews for A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pineiro
‘Argentine novelist Claudia Piñeiro's new book (published by Bitter Lemon Press and translated by Miranda France) shares some common ground with her previously translated All Yours (a death that may be accidental, a feuding couple, their troubled daughter) but A Crack in the Wall is a fuller and more interesting book (the best of her three books translated so far, in my opinion). Pablo Simó is an architect who repeatedly sketches his design for an original building but spends most of his time doing non-design work for an architectural firm that doesn't value him any more than he does himself. He's a worker-bee, without ambition (except for his sketches), the underground man (in a Dostoevskyian metaphor, he commutes via subway when there are more direct ways to get to work on the surface). H longs for Marta, his coworker in the firm, while settling into dull routines with his wife at home as much as his working life in the studio. The novel opens with a disruption from the past: a few years earlier, a man had died on their worksite and he had helped his boss and Marta to (literally) cover up the matter. Now a young woman has appeared in the office asking about the dead man. Pablo has to deal with his memories of the past event (along with another hint of Dostoevsky, in the guilt and fear associated with the past event), his attraction to the young woman, and the stultifying realities of his daily life. Pablo's career is perhaps more reflective of the realities of most architects' lives than the hyper-romantic Roark of Atlas Shrugged, but as in that ponderous novel, Piñeiro is using fiction in a philosophical way. But her philosophy is leavened by wit and by links to a French (rather than Russian, though I've referred to a Russian a couple of times) tradition of philosophical writing that is anchored in daily reality (I kept thinking of Camus as I was reading the book, but perhaps more pertinent would be the "hard" fiction of Simenon). In A Crack in the Wall, Piñeiro maintains the reader's interest at multiple levels: the story moves forward in its time-split way, the characters are fascinating, and the intellectual interest is maintained in an entertaining way. And the conclusion is also satisfying on several levels. We do find out what has been going on (at the same time Pablo discovers the truth), and Pablo himself makes a very interesting career choice. He also resolves his family life, partly through a crisis between his daughter and her mother that forces a choice on him, as much as does his professional change of direction. While Thursday Night Widows was interesting, it moved forward slowly in fits and starts. All Yours is much faster and shorter, but is a bit light, in terms of its scope. Both those novels were satirical in their intent and development, but A Crack in the Wall takes the satire to a higher level, as well as tighening and focusing the crime-and-guilt elements of the story.' - International Noir Fiction
STARRED REVIEW: ‘An old secret comes back to haunt 45-year-old Buenos Aires architect Pablo Simó in Argentinian author Piñeiro's best crime novel yet. One day, an attractive woman of about 25, Leonor, stops by Simó's office and asks him and his two coworkers, Borla and Marta, if they know Nelson Jara. Simó, Borla, and Marta are aware that Jara is dead, buried “under the concrete floor of the parking lot, exactly where they left him that night, three years ago,” but the three deny knowing him or his whereabouts. Later, Leonor runs into Simó at a cafe, where she asks him for help with a photography assignment. The development of the relationship between the architect and Leonor plays out against the backstory of how Jara wound up under the parking lot. Piñeiro (All Yours) keeps the reader hooked right up to the wicked, if logical, ending.' - Publishers Weekly
‘Pablo Simo has hit a roadblock in life. His career as an architect is pretty much at a standstill. He spends days designing buildings he knows he can never get built. So he designs soulless office buildings. The same can be said about his marriage. He spends his nights in a bed with his wife whom he wishes would disappear, while dealing with a teenage daughter who has hit that point in teen years that we can all remember. Things change quickly in Pablo's life when the appearance of a young lady named Leonor comes to the office. She is on the search for a man named Nelson Jara. That name throws not only Pablo for a loop, but also his boss and the secretary named Marta. Leonor wonders if anyone there might know where he is or have had any business with him. The three coworkers know Jara very well and exactly where he went: Three years prior, Jara was put into the foundation of the office building they are occupying right now. That is the basic premise of A CRACK IN THE WALL, the latest novel by Argentine author Claudia Pineiro to be translated into English, but the author just uses that start as a jumping-off point. She doesn't focus on the girl's hunt for the missing Jara and leaves it wide-open as to what actually happened three years ago. There is plenty there for the reader to put together. While this is going on, Pablo becomes infatuated with this young woman. He knows full well she is never going to get to the truth. But then, Leonor has her own set of secrets, such as why she has come looking for Jara. Those thinking the Bitter Lemon Press release, translated by Miranda France, is going to be some dark noir novel will be shocked to see it's more of a character piece, and not everyone is who they say they are. The focus on Pablo reaches the only acceptable ending for the situation he is trying to change.' - Bookgasm
‘When he was younger, Pablo Simo had real enthusiasm for architecture and dreams of achievement, but these days his time is spent cramming the maximum number of cheap flats on any site he can find. He is similarly disillusioned with his marriage, but doing nothing about his interest in Marta, a colleague who is probably having an affair with his boss Borla. However, things start to change when Leonor, an attractive young woman, calls at the office seeking Nelson Jara, a man who disappeared three years previously in circumstances that Borla, Marta and Pablo are desperate to keep quiet. Pablo needs to find the reason for her interest in Jara, but has other motivations for staying in contact. As it turns out, Leonor is the key to big changes in Pablo's routine and unsatisfying life. The crime which Pablo and his colleagues are keen to conceal is at the centre of this story, but the book is less about the crime as much as the inner life of the protagonist Pablo, the re-assessment triggered by Leonor's appearance and his progress to the eventual decision to make some changes. Through his eyes we find out plenty about residential development in Buenos Aires: land values push flats to the limit of affordability and the only way to make it pay is to get odd pieces of land at a bargain, squeeze every last square metre of sellable space out of them, eliminate every unnecessary peso in building, and promise purchasers anything they ask for, no matter how unrealistic. As far as Pablo's home life is concerned, familiarity with his wife Laura has bred indifference in them both. The only issue with any emotional investment for either of them is their daughter Francisca, Laura being frequently emotional about Francisca's adolescent behaviour and Pablo, to his wife's frustration, on his daughter's side. Pineiro presents a convincing picture. Leonor's intrusion into Pablo's life triggers an awakening to the realisation that his marriage is moribund, but that he does have options. There is an awakening in Pablo's professional life too. Here his options are limited by the way the development industry operates in Buenos Aires, but it turns out that these special characteristics provide the prospect of changing the way he earns a living. The solution he finds is not perhaps entirely kosher, but an elegant response to difficult circumstances. Claudia Pineiro tells a credible story with an amusing twist at the end.' - Crime Review
‘Pablo Simó is an architect on the verge of a mid life crisis. His work, marriage and general life is governed more by habit and routine than anything, leaving him to ponder over the attractions of his colleague Marta with whom he suspects his boss may be having a relationship. When a young girl enters the office asking if anyone knows a man called Nelson Jara, the three architects deny all knowledge, but they do know him. He was involved in a claim that one of the practice's projects caused a crack in the wall of his apartment and how this was resolved is something all three of them would rather forget. Argentinian crime writer, Claudia Pineiro's 2009 novel is translated by Miranda France. The translation feels quite direct in that it never feels like you are reading anything other than a book in translation which does lead to something of a sense of 'otherness' about the book. But that small gripe aside, this is a thoughtful and thriller style book about greed, guilt, ambition and breaking free of the rat race. The crime at the centre of the story and the perpetrators of that crime are revealed fairly early on, but exactly what happened and how it came to pass are gradually teased out as Pablo befriends the young girl, Leonor, and Pineiro keeps some nicely plotted surprises up her sleeve until the very end. She has a genuine feel for the architecture element of her protagonists and there are constant references to various buildings in Buenos Aires that make you want to look up pictures of them, while at the same time documenting the gradual erosion of this architectural heritage by soulless office developments. Pablo's life of routine is nicely evoked. His marriage is held together by the arguments over their apparently rebellious teenage daughter, although in fact she is probably no more rebellious than most teenage girls. While at first Pablo comes over as somewhat dull and fastidious - he's a man who has to have his pencil just so on his desk - the reader soon starts to appreciate the position he is in, if not some of his actions and his fantasies about various women. There is one particular moment where Pablo finds himself in his daughter's room trying to bond with his daughter who is listening to music that he doesn't know. His daughter tells him only that it is Leonard Cohen. Pineiro is too subtle a writer to make this an explicit reference but presumably a reference to his Anthem whose refrain includes the lines: 'There is a crack, a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.' In fact, she takes her epigraph for the book from F Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up, but the Cohen line would have been equally appropriate. Either way, it's still a 'cracking' read. ‘ - The Bookbag
‘A highly metaphorical crack in a wall that isn't even his splits open the middle-class facade of a Buenos Aires architect's life. Nothing moves very fast at Borla and Associates, where Pablo Simó still hasn't made associate after 20 years. The one time the firm skated close to the wind was when crabby old Nelson Jara, who lived next door to the Calle Girbone project, claimed that the construction had produced a widening crack in his interior wall. Pablo listened to his complaint, put him off with vague promises, then showed up at the construction site to find his boss, Borla, and their secretary Marta Horvat, standing over Jara's corpse. An accident, insisted Borla; instead of risking the long delays that a police investigation would entail, it would be better for everyone if they simply buried the body and let the unwitting cement contractors pour the foundation over the impromptu gravesite. But that was three years ago, and the only disturbances to Pablo's humdrum work life and marriage have been his wife Laura's occasional bad moods, his daughter Francisca's growth into a teenager and his constant sexual fantasies about Marta. Everything changes when photography student Leonor Corell walks into the office of Borla and Associates asking to see Jara. As if in a trance, Pablo, who's already had frequent daydreams in which he's advised by his old school friend Tano Berletta and haunted by Jara, lets Leonor seduce him, loosening his last bonds to a perfectly ordinary life he suddenly realizes has never been his to begin with. Piñeiro (All Yours, 2011, etc.) unfolds her story, and the social indictment behind it, as placidly as an Argentine Patricia Highsmith at her gentlest.' - Kirkus
‘Set in Buenos Aires in the present day. When a young woman turns up at a property developer's office and asks for a certain Nelson Jara, her innocent-seeming enquiry sends shivers down the spines of three people working there. The reason—they all know where the man is buried: in the cement foundations of a the building in which they are standing. Like Ernesto Mallo, Piñeiro ha s a forensic interest in corruption and how quite decent-seeming people may get sucked into its vortex. But in spite of being set in today's democratic Argentina her vision is somehow bleaker than Mallo's, suggesting a national narrative that has by no means run its course.' - New Internationalist
‘In 2007 in Buenos Aires, twenty-something Leonor Corell visits the office of Borla and Associates, an architectural firm. She asks Borla, fortyish Pablo Simó and Marta Horvat if any of them know where Nelson Jara is. Though they rehearsed their response if the question came up and Borla says no, Pablo fails immediately to respond as his world shifted with that inquiry. However, he recovers as he and Marta deny knowing a Jara. Three years earlier, Simó, Borla and Horvat buried Jara under the concrete of the parking lot. At a café, Corell sees Simó and asks him to help her with a photography assignment. Though he should say no, he agrees to assist her while wondering if his motive is guilt or a need for dangerous freshness with his marriage falling apart, his daughter in rebellion, and his work boring while his dream of designing a special tower is dead. The latest Claudia Piñeiro Argentinian thriller (see Thursday night Widows and All Yours) is a fabulous tale that rotates between the Jara burial and the relationship between Pablo and Leonor. Gripping from the moment the young woman asks her question, readers will relish this taut twisting psychological suspense as Simó faces A Crack in the Wall as big as an iceberg.' - Genre Go Around
‘Pablo Simó and two colleagues at the architecture firm where he works know precisely what happened to Nelson Jara. That happens to be information they swore to keep to themselves, however, and they've kept their vow for three years. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, a young woman visits their office and inquires about Nelson Jara. Does anyone there know him? The architects exchange significant glances. What do they do now? Surely not tell her the truth. And yet: How can Pablo deny what he knows, and what Marta knows, and what Borla knows: that Nelson Jara is dead, buried a few feet beneath the heavy-wear tiles over which the three of them walk every day on their way into or out of the office, under the concrete floor of the parking lot, exactly where they left him that night, three years ago. Within the first six pages of A Crack in the Wall, Claudia Piñeiro eases us into the day-to-day doings of a bored and unremarkable middle-aged architect, then flips his life upside-down so we see there's a great deal lurking beneath the surface of his ordinary existence. One of Argentina's top-selling authors, whose books have earned cover blurbs from no less than Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Piñeiro is known for her ability to probe the behavior and psychology of everyday people—their fears, their weaknesses, their desires, their deceits. The scope of this book is quite small; the story entirely character-driven and engaging. The life of Pablo Simó—middle-aged architect, married, one child—appears to be the quintessential example of “quiet desperation.” He's living inside his own head and emotionally cut off from everyone, even those who should be closest to him. Yet he's only now beginning to realize this is how his life has played out and to wonder how he reached this point. Pablo waits, but his daughter doesn't ask how he is or say anything else. He moves to leave, then as he's turning the handle thinks better of it and turns to ask her: “Tell me something, how do you see me?” “What?” she asks “I don't know, I mean—do I look good to you or bad, old or fat, or old-fashioned? How do you see me Francisca?” “I don't see you, Dad. You're my father.” “What's that got to do with it?” “Just that I don't see you; I don't look at you.” The question for Pablo now is how to make himself “reappear.” It's tempting to invoke Kafka here because of the book's exploration of the small man trapped in a large world rapidly becoming beyond his comprehension. Pablo even refers to himself as “vermin”—a la The Metamorphosis. But that would sound too pretentious, and this book is not pretentious. The story of a man who has allowed his life to be governed by inertia is universal and familiar. That's where Pablo is when we meet him—floating, and almost able to convince himself he's swimming. Now, with the help of the mysterious young woman who's hunting for Nelson Jara, perhaps he's about to be given a chance to make amends for doing the wrong thing—or, more accurately, for not doing the right thing. What will he do with that chance? What will he do to change the direction his life has taken? If you've been to Buenos Aires, you might recognize the neighborhoods and buildings Piñeiro uses as both a backdrop and a metaphor for the preservation, destruction, and rebuilding of one's life. If you haven't been to Buenos Aires, you'll be tempted to make a list of the buildings she mentions for your own “someday” walking tour—assuming they haven't been pulled down to make way for “progress” by then (another condition of life with which we're all familiar). The pleasure of A Crack in the Wall is Piñeiro's gift for taking the themes we know (sometimes all too well) and reshaping them to make them newly provocative, leading to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.' - Criminal Element
‘In this deliciously wicked new novel, her best one yet, Argentinian author Claudia Pineiro, focuses once again on the evil that lurks within the hearts of men, even those who seem innocent or numbed by their own circumstances. Honestly does not seem to enter the equation here, as Pineiro also mines this theme in her two previous novels, recently translated for an American audience – All Yours and Thursday Night Widows, which was made into a hit film in Latin America. As dark as the theme seems to be, the author works it with a light hand, employing surprisingly little violence (which usually takes place “offstage”) and creating characters who often bumble their way through the complex mazes of their lives and into situations over which they believe they have little or no control. Life in Buenos Aires may seem dark here, but Pineiro's characters take their circumstances for granted and do what they believe they must do to succeed. In the process, they become understandable – and all too human in their weaknesses – no one wants to be the chump described in the opening quotation. Pablo Simo, the forty-five-year-old architect who is the main character here, has been married to Laura for eleven thousand seventy days. It is a marriage about which he has thought little, and though he does not believe he is in love with her any longer, neither has he strayed much farther than the realms of imagination, primarily with a sexy female partner at the architectural firm at which he has worked for his whole career. The construction business in Buenos Aires has been booming, and beautiful old buildings are constantly being demolished so that apartment buildings can be constructed with a better “plot ratio” (more floor space – and potential profit – relative to the size of the building lot). Though the architectural firm of Borla and Associates has been extremely successful and Pablo Simo has been there for almost twenty years, he is not a partner and has had no piece of the action, for reasons that he never even questions. He spends his spare time at his desk making hundreds of designs for an eleven-story apartment tower with a north face which he believes will be perfectly beautiful, regardless of plot ratio, and he hopes that one day he will be able to build it, not in Buenos Aires, where one building must be destroyed to build another, but in a new city where he can choose the perfect site. Pablo's life becomes suddenly more complex when a young woman comes to the office looking for Nelson Jara, someone with whom she says she has business to sort out. Mario Borla and Marta Horvat, the firm's partners, emphasize that they have no idea who Jara is, and Pablo just keeps his mouth shut, unable to utter a single word. By page twelve, the reader learns that “Nelson Jara is dead, buried a few feet beneath the heavy-wear tiles over which the three of them walk every day on the way into or out of the office under the concrete floor of the parking lot, exactly where they [all] left him that night, three years ago.” Jara had lived in the apartment building beside a new apartment tower being built by Borla Associates, and a huge crack had developed in the wall of his apartment. He was convinced that the construction had not been done according to code and, though he threatened to report the architects to authorities, he was willing to come to some “accommodation” with the architects. Pablo was put in charge of putting Jara off for a week, at least until the concrete footings could be poured, and it is during this time that he came to know Jara for the man he was. When the week ended, so did Jara. What follows is a story reminiscent of those by Guy de Maupassant, as irony piles on top of irony and Pablo's predictable life becomes more and more unsettled. His marriage is uninteresting, his teenage daughter is out of control, he wonders if his wife has a lover, and he has serious philosophical questions about what love really is. He wants to experience what he is missing, and he maintains a strong residual guilt over his role in the burial of Jara three years ago. When he stops at an unfamiliar coffee shop on his way home from work soon after the young woman appeared at the firm's offices looking for Jara, he runs into her, but she no longer needs Jara, she says, as she has solved the business matter that was so pressing. Attractive and apparently interested in him, the twenty-eight-year-old woman, Leonor, soon engages the hapless Pablo to help her with a paper she is writing on five of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Gradually, through flashbacks, the full, highly ironic story of Jara, his death, and its aftermath unfolds, at the same time that Pablo's own life begins to go off the rails, with wife Laura, daughter Francisca, and new acquaintance Leonor all adding complications to the orderly existence that he has taken for granted. Throughout, author Pineiro conveys Pablo's state of mind through the many small details of his life, including his need to have his life follow predictable pathways, and as his understanding of people and his recognition of his own life's possibilities grow, Pablo becomes more interesting. From the beginning of the novel on, author Pineiro has one surprise after another for the reader, many of them the result of coincidences which, while unlikely, make the story much more fun to read and imagine. The bare outline of the novel's beginning, given here, is filled with ironic details which will keep a smile on readers' faces as one surprise after another unfolds. The action is fast and furious, Pablo is suitably dense as a protagonist, and few readers will predict the grand outcomes of this clever and often amusing novel. The biggest crack in the novel ultimately comes in the “wall” of Pablo's own stultifying life.' Mary Whippler - Seeing the World Through Books
‘Piñeiro's moody, immersive thriller explores personal integrity with an ironic twist, calling to mind Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series. Pablo Simó, a Willy Lomanesque Buenos Aires architect, is burdened with a fouled marriage, dead-end job, and the futility of clinging to his architecture dreams. Young, beautiful Leonor enters Pablo's Buenes Aires office seeking Nelson Jara, a man at the center of a dark act that binds Pablo and his coworkers together. Of course, they send Leonor away with lies, but Pablo later encounters her in the neighborhood, and they develop a chemistry-laden friendship that fuels his obsessive reliving of the Jara incident. Soon Pablo has convinced Leonor to explain her mysterious connection to Jara and her move into the neighborhood. Simultaneously, through Pablo's recollections, Piñeiro reveals why Jara is such an obsession, and none of these revelations is what you'd expect. Usually, readers dread the narrator's doom as the threat of past misdeeds being discovered grows, but Pablo's beautifully painful story somehow cries out for a disaster to divert its trajectory.' - Booklist
‘Pablo Simo is an architect, and is a protagonist who has been feeling stuck. His marriage has stagnated, he is attracted to the female associate at the architectural firm named Marta, and he has been living with a dark secret along with his coworkers involving the disappearance of a man by the name of Nelson Jara. When a precocious young female, Leonor, comes inquiring about the man called Jara, Pablo is forced to revisit the details of the secret his office had long ago agreed to keep. When Pablo and Leonor become closer acquaintances, it could be the catalyst for change that he needs, but at the risk of revealing certain truths that his coworkers have gone to great lengths to keep covered. The plot is well thought out, the progression of events is easy to follow, and Pineiro shows a talent for writing a cast of interesting characters. Pablo's attention to detail and acute observations make him easy to empathize with and I enjoyed the stream of consciousness she wrote for her narrator. A Crack in the Wall is a well-planned novel that is engaging throughout, including plot twists which are not written at the expense of a strong conclusion.' - City Book Review
‘When I read Claudia Piñeiro's novel Thursday Night Widows, I knew I'd found an author that I wanted to follow. Then came All Yours with its deliciously bad unreliable narrator. This brings me A Crack in the Wall, the latest novel from Claudia Piñeiro–a story of greed, murder, and identity. All three novels are highly recommended, and while the plots are dissimilar, there's a common thread– class, the pathology of marriage and its link with crime–all set against the shifting economic backdrop of Buenos Aires society. It's 2007, Pablo Simó is an unhappily married middle-aged architect living in Buenos Aires. He's in a strange position at work–although he's worked there for over 20 years, he's never been made an associate, and he's the odd man out in the unhealthy triangle at the office. There's a long-term affair between Pablo's married boss Borla and the third person in the office, sexy architect Marta, and that leaves Pablo, who's plagued with his own sexual fantasies of Marta, in a somewhat awkward position. Even though the company name is Borla and Associates, the associate, in reality is singular. Pablo has the somewhat undignified position of being the employee who overhears intimacies between Borla and Marta, and he even occasionally acts as a liaison between the two long-term lovers. If Marta wants to call Borla at night, Marta will call Pablo with a message instead of talking to Borla directly, and then Pablo picks up the phone and runs the gauntlet of Borla's wife in order to give Borla whatever message Marta has sent. It's a dead-end job in more ways than one. Not only is Pablo the lowest man on the totem pole, but he's also destined to build generically designed, cheaply made, ugly highrise buildings. With land in short supply, Buenos Aires is in state of flux: beautiful old buildings are being destroyed and systematically replaced, and as Pablo acknowledges: “You can't lay a single brick in Buenos Aires without first finding a building and condemning it to annihilation.” Pablo can only just remember the man he used to be–a man who had goals to design and build something unique, but all this is lost. Now he's driven, like the rest of the herd, to tear down old beautiful buildings and pack in cheap, rapidly built, high-rise flats into every available square foot of Buenos Aires, always keeping the shifting “profit margin” in mind. But Pablo is a dreamer, so by day he scribbles plans for the building he'd like to build, and he also holds silent conversations in his head with his long-lost, equally idealistic friend and fellow architect, Tano, a man who loved the exotic, excessive splendors of Art Nouveau. Even though Pablo hasn't seen Tano in years, the memory of his friend acts as Pablo's conscience–the two men hold imaginary conversations with arguments about Pablo's actions. The presence of this imaginary Tano also reminds Pablo just how far he's veered from the path of his youth. And speaking of Pablo's conscience … well, he's hiding a horrible secret. Partly due to his passivity and partly due to his susceptibility to hysterics, Pablo committed a crime, and while the crime seemed to be buried and forgotten, that recent past walks through the door of Pablo's office in the form of a very attractive young woman who begins asking some awkward questions…. A Crack in the Wall is both literal and figurative. Pablo was involved in building yet another high rise when he's approached by a rather strange man named Jara who contends that the new building is undermining the integrity of his apartment. Jara has a series of photos to show the progression of a sizeable crack in his wall that has opened and continues to grow as the building next door progresses. But the “crack” also exists in Pablo, and it's a crack that separates the man he is and the man he'd like to be. As the story unfolds with Pablo going back over past events, the crack in Pablo's psyche widens, making it much more difficult for Pablo to live with himself. While this is a very satisfying psychological crime novel, to say this is just a crime novel negates the rest of the plot and its character driven elements which explore the issues of identity and moral compromise while also giving us fascinating glimpses of Argentinean culture and architecture. Claudia Piñeiro shows us that there's a very definite connection between ideals and an inner moral compass. Lose one and the other is in jeopardy.' - Swiftly Tilting Planet
  • Author avatar
    Francois Von Hurter
  • A Crack in the WallClaudia PineiroReview