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Optic Nerve

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  1,013 ratings  ·  184 reviews
The narrator of Optic Nerve is an Argentinian woman whose obsession is art. The story of her life is the story of the paintings, and painters, who matter to her. Her intimate, digressive voice guides us through a gallery of moments that have touched her.

In these pages, El Greco visits the Sistine Chapel and is appalled by Michelangelo’s bodies. The mystery of R
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Catapult (first published June 26th 2014)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,013 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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Lark Benobi
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who love reading Álvaro Enrigue and Alice Munro
From the first page, I was immediately and intensely endeared to the narrator of Optic Nerve. I would follow this narrator on any reading journey, wherever she would lead me, because the places she leads me, sentence by sentence and chapter by chapter, are unexpected, wonderful, startling, and humane.

The chapters hang together loosely. There is no plot to speak of. And yet the pieces and digressions come together again and again to become something whole and true.

The novel situates you in
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, argentinian
This was fascinating. It's called a novel but it's its own genre really. The first-person narrator reads so true you'd swear it's memoir.

That narrator has studied art and each chapter features an artist or artwork that she explains, mixed with some literary quote and ongoing personal reflection. What plot there is is piecemeal.

A neat little summary from me is impossible and a larger exposition would ruin it for you. And you should read this.

But let me share some of the paintings that are featured (even though sometimes the exact painting is not identified):

There's H
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
This is the second book that I finished today that I would call weird and wonderful. The narrator relates episodes from her life through various works of art and the stories of the artists. Wonderful writing about art and life, in general. My only complaint is that I would have liked the parts to be more coherent and fit together more logically. As what might be called experimental fiction, however, this is one of the better examples.
Katia N
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a bit unusual, but successful piece of auto-fiction from Argentina. The author is the art critic. The book blends the reflections of her alter-ego's personal life with the fragments about the artists and paintings. I found her perception of art fascinating, really thrilling sometimes. Her knowledge seems to be boundless and she brings the artists alive in a very economic, but self-sufficient fragments which are never trivial. I liked it especially when she talked about the Argentinian ar ...more
Anna Luce
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art lovers
★★★★✰ 3.5 stars

“I am a woman hovering at the midpoint of life, but I still haven’t lost my touch completely: it is within my power, for instance, to flit from the Schiavoni painting in the National Museum of Fine Arts to the Miguel Carlos Victorica they hold in the Sívori Gallery. In other words, to make the shift from childhood to old age in an instant. ”

A series of interesting vignettes that juxtapose the lives of famed and lesser-known artists to the experiences of the people in/>A/>“I
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think the translator did a wonderful job putting Gainza’s words into English. So major kudos to Thomas Bunstead for his work.

I am not big on comparisons, but Gainza’s work reminds me of Mary Gaitskill, whose work I enjoy. I hope that Catapult options more of Gainza’s work and publishes it in English.

The main character of this story has an eye for art and she describes her adventures to see certain works.

What moved me the most about this story is that I know how the cha
Robert Blumenthal
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was barely a novel, more of a set of essays about how art can influence our lives. In each chapter, the author tells a bit about the life of our narrator, a middle-aged woman living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We do learn a bit about her--her marriage, her friends, her connection to art. It is far from linear and much more episodic.

That being said, the writing and translation are very good. Lacking a strong narrative drive, the information into events in artists' lives and
Bradford Philen
I really wanted to get into this book, but just couldn’t. The references to the art work and the art history was interesting, but I couldn’t get into the narrative or connect with the protagonist.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autofiction
This novel reads like a collection of soft, gorgeous essays.

Often melancholic, each one tends to be structured with two stories that intertwine until the end of the chapter. Gainza has a gift for final sentences, and for endings.

Despite the melancholy, she's quite funny and has a great sense of humor.

I hate to make comparisons, especially when the writer has their own voice. But just a guide post -- It reminds me a bit of Enrique Vila-Matas (who has a quote on the back praising the book), a
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am rounding this up to four stars having read the praising reviews of some other goodreaders who I respect. I had chosen this book as a most anticipated early in the year and I think this was a case where my expectations were different than what I read, so I felt a little disappointed. The idea of using essay like discussions of specific artworks to help illuminate the main idea sounded wonderful to me. The episodes did not jell into a whole for me however, and the result felt more like a coll ...more
Anthony Ferner
El nervio óptico is described as María Gainza's first novel. Perhaps that should be "novel", as it's an intriguing mixture of personal and family memoir, art history, and art criticism. Considered dispassionately, Gainza's approach might seem problematic. Each chapter uses a different artist, or even a single painting, to riff on the artist, the period, the author's response to the art, and the various family episodes and personal recollections that the art evokes. It shouldn't work, yet somehow ...more
Elena Sala
EL NERVIO ÓPTICO (2014), the debut of Argentinian novelist and art critic María Gainza, is an unclassifiable masterpiece, a beautiful, surprising, unique blend of autofiction, art history and intimate family chronicle.
The narrator, like the author, is called María. She is a museum guide and art critic in Buenos Aires. She is quite reticent, but when she muses about her experiences of her encounters with art— certain paintings by Courbet, Toulouse Lautrec, Cezanne, Rothko, Rousseau, among o
Dana DesJardins
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot to love about this work, though I am not sure how to characterize it: art history? Autobiography through art? Philosophical musings by a fictional narrator about real paintings? Gainza's reflections about art sent me to the interwebs to look up paintings, and even deeper, to investigate biographies, history, and the interplay of them all. Wryly funny and fascinating.
4.5 I really hope more of her work gets translated into English.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-extra
The protagonist of the novel analyses her life and family relationships, mainly through pictures and books. The book is saved from being yet another example of privileged existential angst by the quality of the writing and translation and the fact that the protagonist is given a good reason for her reassessment of her life.
I was confused by the occasional switch from first-person to second-person narration, as I could not see the reason for this, but decided to round four-and-a-half stars
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Happiness interests only those who experience it; nobody can be moved by the happiness of others."
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh yeah baby this was a GOOD ONE and I feared it would be lost on me b/c of not having a background in visual art! Not so, not so!
Ruben Vermeeren
DNF - didn't work for me...
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I read the first two chapters in snippets of found time and it wasn’t coming together but I was able to read the rest in a few hours and I found the experience was much better. I think the author was very clever weaving art and family history together and I enjoyed the art history component. I would rate this book a solid 3.5 stars and I would rate it a 4 except that it is a series of vignettes with recurring characters. It is marketed as a novel and this is positively not a novel. It is autofic ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My main regret is that I didn't sit down with this and read it in one or two long sessions. By picking at it over the course of many days, I think I missed some of the essence of what is a beautiful novel. The inclusion of art and artists' stories is brilliant, and I wanted to love it as much as many others are loving it. It's a great book, and I should reread it soon to get the full experience.
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was such a surreal delight. The artists and paintings all felt like old friends, and the second person/first person narration was both jarring and intimate. Would definitely recommend to fans of short and intense fiction, and anyone who has felt too much about art.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have a pet theory that the best literary fiction of the century is mostly being written in Spanish. This lovely and refined short novel from Argentina reads like nonfiction, as a lot of recent literary fiction does. More specifically, it reads like a series of autobiographical essays: in each one the narrator takes an aspect or episode of her life and weaves it with the work & life of a painter that has a thematic connection. Some of the artists are famous (El Greco, Toulouse-Lautrec, Roth ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of Argentinian writer Maria Gainza’s first novel and work to be translated into English, Optic Nerve, suggests more than our means of perception. Instead, the title conveys beauty and anxiety, dual emotions at the center of art criticism, which can be both taxing on the mind and a source of bodily rejuvenation. For Gainza, sight is what triggers our memories, and everything else comes after. And, if the nameless narrator who is only referred to as “I” is not enough of a hint, it is our sightNerve, ...more
Sneha Sridhar
Easy breezy read.. I enjoyed the narration of her life through art, but I felt there was something missing in this book.. having said that it’s got fantastic reviews so I would recommend it, perhaps it’ll work better for someone else!
Well written and made me feel less lonely. So read it. Some quite vivid images made by competent writing (especially the way her daughter sees her fathers legs). A very honest work.

Reminded me of Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard in the way you are with the author during a specific moment in their life- driving in the car, going meeting a friend- and you hear their thoughts in the form of a semi-essayistic style. Some of the time this didn't work here. Sometimes it was just a random desc
Leah Denison
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
In Gainza’s book we are taken through the main character, Maria’s, memories through various works of art which serve as portals to her past. The idea is brilliant as the mere sighting of an artwork in passing is enough to bring us down a Proustian rabbit hole of Maria’s beautifully rendered past. Through each piece we are given an in depth background of the artist as told my Maria as art historian and then hear a story of her own background by Maria as her natural self. Although the chapters are ...more
I really liked this novel. In the first person, a woman tells about her live in connection with painters and their paintings. Each chapter concerns a story from her life and one or more painters. When she visits her brother in San Francisco, it is El Greco. When pregnant and desparate to leave the house, it is a trip to a museum to see paintings by Candido Lopez, that she's forgotten are being restored (and have been for three years). The stories told were not in chronological order. I once thou ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
*2.25 stars. There's nothing wrong with this book, but I felt unengaged for the majority of it. I rarely do this, but simply skimmed the last couple stories. Did enjoy these quotes:
"...when I heard something go crunch, and remembered my glasses were inside. I got up and fished them out, first on arm, then the other: they reminded me of the legs of an Amazonian mosquito, and something about this just broke my heart" (30).
"...Alphonse Charles Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec, Monfa, was an eccentr
Jasmin.M  ياسمين منصور
4.0 Stars I really enjoyed this book. The narrative of the story, the art and characters is what made it different and unique. I had to stop a couple of times to search up the painters and the paintings. You can say I learned some art and had fun reading about it.
This book might even end up being a movie :) and if it does I will make sure to see it.

A quotes I really liked:
" The more perfect the artist, the more completely separated in him will be the man who suffers and the mind th
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