Updated: Sep 22, 2022
By Maria Gainza
My fingers hover over the keyboard—this is my first autofiction book—so my review is part-reaction to this unfamiliar genre, part reaction to the story. Autofiction has been around since the ‘70s. I just hadn’t read a novel of that genre yet. It’s a mix of autobiography/memoir and fiction. As you can imagine, the result is like the feeling of walking on sand—slippage in each step—but forward movement. Instead of the reader experience being one of getting lost in a plot-driven drama. This story is an experience of sorting, connecting, wandering and wondering what truth is, and what is fiction.
Argentinean art-critic author Gainz brings the rich depth of her art knowledge to the book’s 11 chapters in which a single painter and his specific work is one she’s seen in the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. Each painting connects to a personal story she recalls. The chapters are standalone and don’t follow a sequence of events. So, it’s over the course of the novel that the reader discovers bits and pieces of the author’s life—similar to the experience we have when a friendship is developed over time and family members, past experiences, childhood incidents, etc. are heard in a jumble over the course of time. Gainza threads themes of the act of seeing and seeking the meaning of life through the chapters.
The main character appears passive, but she has agency through her observation. The tone is melancholy, but not cynical. And just when the smooth prose has carried you along into a kind of pleasantness, Gainza jolts the reader with a funny current events reference, like Charlie’s Angels or reality TV, or she’ll pop in an insight that resonates, such as “To ever feel that you understand anything only means that your mind has turned rigid.” Oh, made me pause! Published originally in Spanish, Optic Nerve has been beautifully translated by Thomas Bunstead. I’ll be reading more autofiction thanks to this book.