I first read Silvina Ocampo quite a while ago, at the time when I was living in Buenos Aires and any her fiction was virtually impossible to come by in English. It was a time when I was discovering so many greats that hadn’t quite yet made it in translation—Bioy, Sábato, Arlt, Saer, and even Aira, who was much better positioned than the other names on this list but still wasn’t really very well-known at that time—and it goes to show you that something good is afoot, as some of these names are now much better-known. Even with my so-so Spanish, I could tell that Ocampo was a hugely gifted writer.
This year Ocampo has finally gotten an English-language edition worthy of her talents, with the release (and pretty successful reception) of Thus Were Their Faces, a career-spanning collection of short fiction from the incredible NYRB Classics.
These stories are just plain eerie, creepy, and just a little bit evil, in the very best way that can be said. They have some genetic linkage to Clarice Lispector, in their highly original approach to depicting the lives of women, their feminism, their occult power, and their complete originality.
For more I’ll point you to my review at Music & Literature. Here’s a good quote:
To this day it is not hard to find people calling her Argentina’s “best-kept secret.” This may point to barriers for women in the heady modernist golden age, and it may also indicate barriers around the sort of fiction Ocampo wrote. Her influences are much harder to locate than those of Borges or Bioy—making it more difficult to situate her into a cultural lineage—and she chose subjects that courted marginality: child-narrators, the lives of animals, women’s couture, dolls, and madwomen. Borges, Bioy, and Ocampo all brought the surreal into the everyday, but whereas Bioy imagined how technology interfaced with his bizarre plots, and whereas Borges heroicized his adventure tales into master narratives that wrought new truths, Ocampo camouflaged her fantasies, as though they were microscopic details in yards of baroque wallpaper. If you blink at the wrong moment everything will look perfectly normal, yet once you do see that tiny seam in the fabric of what is, your eyes will see nothing else.
Ocampo was also an accomplished poet, and the volume of her poetry released this year should also be read.