Here, art is a trellis around which life knots and overlaps, severs, climbs upward. Like Faye, the novelist at the center of Rachel Cusk’s celebrated Outline trilogy, the narrator of Optic Nerve is appealingly reticent. We are supplied with the contour of a character and little else ... elegantly translated ... while often obliquely gorgeous, is not without its missteps. There are incursions into the second person that squander the immediacy Gainza has gathered with the lyrical authority of María’s voice. The novel is also dappled with quotes from writers...While these are often very good, they are sometimes clustered with a hoarder’s avidity ... Optic Nerve’s episodic iridescence—the way each chapter shimmers with the delicacy of a soap bubble—belies its gravity. Gainza has written an intricate, obsessive, recherché novel about the chasm that opens up between what we see and what we understand ... a radiant debut.
... appealing and digressive ... The [unspoken tension in the narrator's life] isn’t always crystal clear in the book, which nonetheless consistently charms with its tight swirl of art history, personal reminiscence and aesthetic theories. In a series of chapters that read like discrete essays, the narrator ruminates on the desire (and the stymied desire) to travel; the expectations established within families; the lures of melancholy and nostalgia ... Parts of Optic Nerve read as straight-up art criticism, strongly voiced ... This is the first of Gainza’s books to be translated into English, and these moments make one hope that her criticism will be next to arrive.
... Gainza, in a gorgeous translation by Thomas Bunstead, mines María's elusiveness — and allusiveness; she's great with a well-placed quotation — to create a highly compelling life story told almost entirely through art ... María's descriptions of art are one of Optic Nerve's great pleasures. Without fail, they are lyric but unpretentious, imaginative and compelling ... [The descriptions of art] might seem a bit over-intellectualized, but thanks to Gainza's dry wit and realism, it's the reverse ... Gainza's own artistic tactic, it seems, is to keep her narrator's sense of discovery alive throughout the novel. With each chapter, María finds a new artist to love, and, in doing so, accesses a new part of herself. It's a pleasure to watch her do both.