While at times the quick transitions from one scene to another can make the novel feel slightly overcrowded, Meruane is a deliberate and immensely gifted writer who understands how political trauma is forever stored in the human body. Betraying a keen eye for microscopic precision and a pliant poetic imagination, her sentences move between the two poles of scientific detail and metaphysical sensibility ... A restless novel, Nervous System burns in the mind long after one has read it, not unlike the ghosts who circumnavigate our psyches, and the winding corridors of history, to hammer us on the head with the raw truth that time is not linear. The distance between the deep past and the present, Meruane shows, is much shorter than we might be inclined to think.
Lina Meruane’s Nervous System is a curious little book, both deeply intimate and widely relatable ... Megan McDowell does an excellent job of balancing the sentence-level manipulations of language with the coldness of rendering a woman’s breakdown in slow-motion. Ominously at work is a wider narrative about the ways illness and violence, both personal and national, continue to live in the long-term memory of the body ... As the story widens to encompass the other characters, it still remains internally focused. We learn other character’s illnesses but not where or who they are, and we only know them as they relate to Ella. There are oblique references to state violence ... Perhaps the most distinctive thing about this novel is that it takes place in tenses more so than on a timeline. Much like the universes Ella studies, the narrative is constantly wrapping around itself, expanding and contracting ... Nervous System is a quiet novel. McDowell does an excellent job of translating the tenses and tensions, characteristic of Meruane’s lyrical style, in a way that captivates the reader, even though there is little active plot.
Lina Meruane's Nervous System is a novel both fanciful and visceral, pairing the study of the cosmos with medical mysteries and wounds on earth ... Megan McDowell's translation from the Spanish establishes an eerie tone, both emotional and detached ... Nervous System is filled with anguish and unease, but also starlight.
Meruane...deftly and insightfully looks back at what happens to the mind and body under years of dictatorship in her home country of Chile, while writing and memorializing from the present ... Like any world-altering event, the dictatorship sorted everything into a before and after for Ella, neither of the categories overlapping, always their own distinct realms of time. Yet this novel allows the specter of the trauma of the past to present itself in the actions of the characters of the present, rather than it specifically running and shaping the story. This is where Meruane defines herself away from recent work of other Chilean novelists, like Nona Fernandez or Alejandro Zambra. The dictatorship isn’t the defining aspect or character of this novel, and it shouldn’t be; instead, the novel accounts for how the task of keeping family together can trump almost anything, even health and telling the truth.
...all relayed in fragmented, visceral prose that illuminates their experience of illness: isolation, confusion, speculation, fear, and detachment ... cerebral, raw, and disorienting, effectively creating an unsettling and tense reading experience. McDowell’s translation maintains a cadence that evokes the original Spanish. Best for larger collections with a call for literary South American works.
Hypochondriacs may take anxious pleasure in the latest novel from Lina Meruane ... Nervous System is a work of disease in both senses of the term, interweaving interiority and toe-curling corporeality ... In its sensitivity to how bodies suffer, relate to and rely on each other, Nervous System has non-fictional counterparts in the work of Rebecca Solnit ... Despite such fine company, however, the narrative is weighed down by its fragments’ earnest jostling for profundity, and it is as burdened as it is buoyed by its clever guiding metaphors ... Nonetheless, there are moments of genuine poetry, capably captured by Megan McDowell’s translation.
Chilean writer Meruane’s razor-sharp novel (after Seeing Red) follows a young woman struggling to complete a dissertation in astrophysics ... Meruane is a writer of undeniable talent; her portrayal of the body as a site of suffering is nuanced and unflinching ... While there isn’t much in the way of momentum, on a sentence level it’s unimpeachable. The result is a challenge, but one that gives the reader much to chew on.
For all the family drama at play here, though, the novel is less a morbid domestic tale and more a postmodern meditation on how illness and loss forge connections as enduring as a happy marriage or healthy children; if Don DeLillo wrote a family saga, it might read like this ... The iciness of Meruane's style somewhat blunts the impact of the climax, but her command of Ella’s anxiety, bordering on despair, makes it a fair trade-off ... A complex, melancholy tale of a woman on the brink.