Ella is an astrophysicist struggling with her doctoral thesis in the 'country of the present' but she is from the 'country of the past,' a place burdened in her memory by both personal and political tragedies. Consumed by writer's block, Ella finds herself wishing that she would become ill, which would provide time for writing and perhaps an excuse for her lack of progress. Then she begins to experience mysterious symptoms that doctors find undiagnosable.
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.