Sea Monsters derives little energy from what happens to Luisa, or from how she changes during her travels. Instead, it works like a poem, gathering steam through image, repetition, and metaphor ... Like a magician, Aridjis is obsessed with elusiveness; like a symbolist, she far prefers imagination and metaphor to plain sight ... the novel’s satisfactions come not from character growth or plot resolution, but from the evoking of emotion through symbols ... Few novels operate this way, but many poems do. I found that Sea Monsters frequently conjured Elizabeth Bishop’s 'The Fish,' with its rapt attention to the fish’s real and imagined body. The victory at the poem’s end comes not from catching or keeping the fish, but from having beheld it. Observation and beauty create meaning ... The novel’s strength lies in its ability to turn to the next magic trick, the next detail, the next sight. Those sights are all the more impressive when conjured solely from language. By opting out of fiction’s conventional prioritization of plot or character development, Aridjis foregrounds her ability to develop images and metaphors. The result is seductive in its multiplicity.
The narrator has a strange, sharp brain, roiling with classical references, and her judgments give the book an intellectual rigor that is somehow not at odds with its dreamy lethargy ... Aridjis is deft at conjuring the teenage swooniness that apprehends meaning below every surface. Like Sebald’s or Cusk’s, her haunted writing patrols its own omissions ... self-contained, inscrutable, and weirdly captivating.
You read [Aridjis] more for atmosphere than plot; her eccentrically detailed style holds out the promise of a big-picture coming together in a perpetual tease that, depending on how twitchy you’re feeling, leaves your expectations rewired or just frustrated ... Aridjis scrambles your brain, not with high-modernist pyrotechnics but by the stealthier means of undermining the assumption that a novel’s words exist to advance the story ... Aridjis, though, has never been an instrumentalist, kill-your-darlings kind of writer and by the end we’ve learned not to expect much from Adán or any of the zillion other cameos here. A last-minute change of perspective provides a payoff of sorts, but ultimately you enjoy Luisa’s company without ever being quite sure why she wants us around ... the narrative largesse turns out to be a type of withholding.