The Promise is [Ocampo's] sole novel, begun in the mid-1960s and left definitively unfinished at the author’s death in 1993. It’s an extraordinary book, for which only Borges’s description of her writing will do—clairvoyant. Ocampo’s narrative premise is elegantly unnerving ... A decade or so into its writing, Ocampo called her novel 'phantasmagorical,' and this I suppose is what she meant: these figures manifest and fade again like ghosts, and it’s quite unclear if they have ever existed ... A novel about the writing of a novel, then, in which plot and character are at best ambiguous rumors. Nothing is certain about the doomed woman’s memories except that they keep coming, spooling out like the internal monologue of one of those solitary garrulous derelicts in Beckett ... Ocampo’s particular art is to have turned such obvious themes into a work of delirious precision ... We’re told that Ocampo struggled to finish her only novel because she had begun to suffer from Alzheimer’s; as her character’s past recedes and the empty ocean claims her, the author seems to be describing her own end. But if that’s the case, the lucidity with which she does it renders autofiction moot, because this long goodbye belongs to us all: 'I am looking at a vanishing world, the world that abandons me, that holds me in its arms and that I cannot restrain.'
At the start of The Promise, the basic plot would appear to be that a woman has fallen off a transatlantic liner unnoticed. If she can only keep recounting her memories to herself, perhaps she will keep up her strength and morale until she is rescued ... As The Promise goes on, however, even stranger intrusions and non sequiturs begin to make the reader suspect that the narrator—with her guilelessness that at first suggested an ingenue—is actually much older than one supposed, and that the place she is lost may not be the sea ... Passages from the opening pages...take on new meaning, no longer simply describing a self-effacing personality but revealing the isolation of the very old, frail, and dependent ... In short, though all the old stamps of Ocampo are there (a ghoulish mariticide, a dinner-party satire that skewers bourgeois self-regard like a scene from late Buñuel), she has arranged these components to suggest something about decomposition: together they form a theory of memory and its opposite ... The result is a bold phantasmagoria, marked by Ocampo’s insight that in extremis, delirium can be the highest form of truth.
... strikingly 20th-century ... written in a high-modernist mode rarely found in contemporary fiction ... [Suzanne Jill Levine, Katie Lateef-Jan, and Jessica Powell] have captured Ocampo's Surrealist style beautifully, creating translations powered by image and mood rather than character or plot.