... a psychological, dystopian novel with a quiet unease ... Despite its potentially dramatic premise, Ornamental is a work of subtlety and restraint, in which almost every conflict is heard second hand, and if then, only briefly considered. Lizzie Davis compares the novel to a work of architecture in her translator’s note. Given the novel’s high narrative distance, the comparison seems especially apt; Ornamental is born in part out of an aesthetic contrast between frenetic surrealism and clinical minimalism, not unlike the contrast between the bright splashes of color and blockish houses which they cover in Cárdenas’s home country of Colombia ... What makes Ornamental so deeply affecting, however, is not that its pages come together to form a beautiful work of exterior art — though it does — but its ability to cast unease on our interior worlds. Cárdenas is an art critic as well as a novelist, and his exploration of the nature of criticism and artistic interpretation lend Ornamental its eerie power ... a very unusual work of minimalist prose, gesturing toward the universality of absence rather than particular universal constructs ... Brilliantly executed and cleverly translated, Ornamental leaves us with a fresh understanding of the creation of art and the nature of meaning-making. Davis’s translator’s note leaves us with the question, 'How do we look and listen from now on?' and I can honestly say, I haven’t the slightest idea — this novel has knocked me off my feet.
... in the guise of a medical research study, smashes together art, science and philosophy in a fast-moving 124 pages ... With pitch-black comedy, Ornamental, nimbly translated by Lizzie Davis, channels the ways that egomaniacs in science and art — in any field — rise to the top, up the pyramid of capitalism ... Cárdenas briskly considers the balance between utility and embellishment ... The novel combines gestures of traditional storytelling with unexpected divergences that sometimes feel electric and other times feel, well, like ornaments. Monologues from the narrator’s favored study participant, for example, contain moments of profundity and also meander. But even when it stretches, the rhythm of Cárdenas’s writing compels and reassures, as if driven by the very humanity the lab has helped suppress.
... atmospheric, nightmarish ... In spare and economical prose, Cárdenas sketches a highly stratified world ... Cárdenas is less interested in plot than juxtaposing the contradictory philosophies of the wealthy, elitist doctor; his artist wife, who believes in 'the mysticism of grace'; and the intelligent and damaged Number 4, who insists on 'the authentic grace of people like me, who outfit themselves in everyone else’s debris.' Still, the overall effect offers both thrills and chills.