OPTIC NERVE by Maria Gainza


by ; translated by
Email this review


A woman chronicles her city, her family, and the culture that has defined her life in this debut novel by an Argentinian journalist and art critic.

The unnamed narrator of Gainza’s first foray into fiction, which is also the first of her books to be translated into English, is a flâneur of the metaphysical. A languorous woman approaching middle age, our narrator—one of the many self-proclaimed black sheep in an aristocratic Argentinian family on the decline—lives, works, and, eventually, refuses to leave Buenos Aires due to a pathological fear of flying she develops in her late 20s. Far from feeling trapped by this semicloistered life, however, she revels in the intimacy of her city, whose every mood she faithfully chronicles in service to the moment when the “clouds occasionally part and, out of nowhere, something emerges.” As our narrator navigates her life, the reader builds a picture of her marriage, friendships, estrangements, entanglements, family grudges, and desires that feels at once spontaneous and curated. The narrator allows us an intimacy through her stream-of-consciousness impressions which the author controls through her nonchronological ordering, shifting points of view, and short tales from the lives of famous artists interspersed among the chapters. The effect is like walking through an eclectically assembled gallery show organized around the central theme of domestic ephemera. The narrator’s childhood exploration of Buenos Aires while walking the family dog leads to Toulouse-Lautrec’s debauchery in the dance halls of Montemarte; her husband’s friendship with a prostitute in the cancer ward where he is receiving treatment opens the doors to the mystery of Rothko’s refusal to finish his commissioned murals for the Four Seasons in New York. With cultural touch points ranging from the Doors to Michel de Montaigne—and touching on Guy de Maupassant, Aubrey Beardsley, Marguerite Duras, and a host of others in between—Gainza writes a lingual picture of a woman who walks the echoing halls of Western cultural history with the intimate familiarity of an initiate while maintaining a sense of astonishment at the wonders of the everyday world, where, when, "the grandiose…grows tiresome…a simple little hill does well enough.”

Erudite and unusual, Gainza’s voice evokes both John Berger and Silvina Ocampo even as she creates something wholly new.

Pub Date: April 9th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-948226-16-5
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Catapult
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2019


FictionJAKARTA by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano
by Rodrigo Márquez Tizano
FictionFROM THE SHADOWS by Juan José Millás
by Juan José Millás
FictionTHE NOCILLA TRILOGY by Agustín Fernández Mallo
by Agustín Fernández Mallo


NonfictionYANN ANDRÉA STEINER by Marguerite Duras
by Marguerite Duras
FictionTHINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE by Mariana  Enríquez
by Mariana Enríquez
FictionNOTES ON JACKSON AND HIS DEAD by Hugh Fulham-McQuillan
by Hugh Fulham-McQuillan