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Optic Nerve (Kobo eBook)
This category-defying, English-language debut by Argentinian María Gainza will equally enchant fans of Rachel Cusk or John Berger, Jenny Offill or Leonora Carrington, Samanta Schweblin or Gaston Bachelard, Rikki Ducornet or Lynne Tillman
Optic Nerve has already been sold into nine languages, and nearly all will be published in simultaneous coedition with Catapult's US/Canadian edition
While Optic Nerve compellingly blends autofiction, humor, imagined memories, art history, fairy tales, and memoir, its central premise is the story of a girl (with no formal education) who seeks refuge from life in museums
The author, who herself has no formal university education, is a self-taught art historian and admirer of fine art from around the world. Her motivation for writing the book stemmed in part from the frustrations she felt as she “kept finding texts in museum brochures extremely boring, opaque, off-putting, so I developed this fantasy of writing an art guide that would be seductive and capricious”
Some of the most compelling passages of the book concern the emotions, memories, and fictions that works of art provoke. Gainza writes eloquently and immersively of the way the mind wanders and plays as it views and is moved by a particular piece of art. Her narrators—often merging in voice with the author herself—must leave gallery spaces to catch their breath after seeing a painting, or are swept away imagining the lives of those who commissioned the works of art centuries before, or are more obsessed with the rumored lives of the artists than the work itself. In other sections, artists' inspirations and microhistories (such as those of Henri Rousseau) are unexpectedly juxtaposed against the author's own (such as her fear of flying)
Translator Thomas Bunstead has also translated Eduardo Halfon's The Polish Boxer, works by Enrique Vila-Matas, Yuri Herrara, and more of the important Spanish literary voices in print today
For bookstores whose staff and customers appreciate NYRB, Europa, Sarabande, or Dorothy Project titles, and for stores with strong Spanish-American communities (the five states with the largest Argentinian diasporas include Florida, California, New York, New Jersey, and Texas)
Bookseller praise for Optic Nerve
"Genre is a silly constraint, and Optic Nerve by María Gainza is proof of that. Joining works like Krasznahorkai's Seiobo There Below, Enrigue's Sudden Death, and Browning's The Gift, Optic Nerve is art history and theory joined with the narrator's own stories. It is a giant painting on its own, made up of short episodes and sudden turns, beautiful and elegant." —Anton Bogomazov, Politics and Prose (Washington, D.C.)
"Reading Optic Nerve feels far more like meandering through an art museum than like sitting down with a book. Its stream-of-consciousness leaning reminded my of Virginia Woolf, while its poignant reflections on art and how we absorb it reminded me of Olivia Laing in The Lonely City and John Berger in Ways of Seeing. Extremely visual, this meandering meditation proves again and again—and without feeling like it's trying to prove anything—that we can never look at things and keep them separate from us; to look is to create a relationship and to alter. Either pay extremely close attention to the speaker's ever-shifting mind, or let the whole book wash over you like a gallery. To sit in between the extremes will ruin Gainza's work for you." —Afton Montgomery, Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver, CO)
"Optic Nerve is a stunning blend of fiction and art history, compulsively readable, and delicately connected. The narrator is not simply a woman who loves art and is knowledgable about its histories, but rather, she's a woman whose vision is entirely shaped by works of art, and for whom the lives and passions of the artists she loves are more real, more intimate, more immediate than anything else. Art and its histories provide the sharpest lenses for understanding her husband's past with his ex-wife, a shocking loss, or the fading relationship between best friends. Paintings and their stories are summoned to the page and to the mind of the narrator with the fluidity and quickness of an eyelid flutter. As her narrator ruminates on a moment just before tragedy, Gainza writes: 'And I cannot tell what I should do with a death as ridiculous as hers, as pointless and hypnotic, nor do I know why I mention it now, though I suppose it's always probably that way: you write one thing in order to talk about something else.'" —Gina Balibrera Amyx, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
"Yes! This is the book you/I/we need. It is the kind of book that requires you to give it as a gift so you can talk about it later. It will create secret societies and evangelists, both of them publicly wary of the other, but secretly in love. I've enjoyed the comparisons to John Berger—very accurate. Both have an eye for art and the words to tell you what you've yet to see. Others have said Italo Calvino. I've got another, for the indie cool kids in your life: Nathalie Léger (of Suite for Barbara Loden semi-fame). Damn the lines between real life and fiction, so long as it is truth-telling. And Optic Nerve is as brilliant an example of this enigmatic declaration as I could hope to find." —Brad Johnson, East Bay Booksellers (Oakland, CA)
"Brimming with mysterious energy and translated with a languid richness that intoxicates the reader with its inexplicable powers undulating under the surface, Optic Nerve is a force. The book’s ability to clearly illuminate the elliptical complexity of human nature and its relationship to art stunned me." —Wesley Minter, Third Place Books (Seattle, WA)
"These linked short stories delve into the life of the unnamed Argentinian narrator and her connection with the art world. We learn about artists, paintings, legendary meetings, and more, all through the eyes of this woman. These stories are great to dip into one at a time; with such wide-ranging topics, various settings, and family dramas, each story deserves it's own place in the reader's thoughts." —Abby Rubin, Pages Bookshop (Detroit, MI)
"María Gainza finds this extremely rare balance of hyperintelligence and intimacy, making art and art history feel not only accessible, but deeply personal." —Kelsey Ford, Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA)
"Optic Nerve is a slow burn, a sort of hypnotic kaleidoscope that unfolds around you silently, and before you know it, you’re upside down and seeing a thousand colors. María Gainza’s hyperintelligent narrator is not so much sensitive as sensible, in the old-fashioned way; she has a Keatsian negative capability that guides the reader through art and emotion without ever lingering long enough to dip into melodrama. Imagine if Rachel Cusk wrote for Artforum, and you’re getting there." —Vanessa Martini, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA)
"María Gainza is an unique talent who writes about art in a wonderfully lucid, enthusiastic, and thoroughly engaging manner. Optic Nerve is an utterly fascinating but difficult to classify novel: Valeria Luiselli or Flights by Olga Tokarczuk come to mind. In eleven stories or chapters, in a beautiful fluid style (finely translated by Thomas Bunstead), she writes about a range of painters—including Coubert, Dreux, El Greco—all described with terrific anecdotes as if you are viewing their paintings with your own docent. Gainza thinks in terms of images and can translate these into words in a spectacular manner. Art is not some extra in the narrator’s life but a major consolation. Without introduction, but seamlessly, she switches to gripping stories about the narrator’s personal life. About her family, about the Argentinian milieu where she grew up. Her reflections on art spread into the descriptions of daily life, her friends, her youth. What makes this novel so especially wonderful is the ease with which Gainza mixes the personal stories and her reflections on paintings. A gem of a book." —Wander J. Lorentz de Haas, The Regulator