OJO CRÍTICO PRIZE 2015.
Sonia meets Knut in a literary forum on the Internet. Despite the 700 kilometres that separates them they begin a peculiar relationship marked by obsession and incongruity. Both attracted and repulsed, Sonia can’t help but feel fascinated by this unusual and perfectionistic character who lives outside social constraints and who courts her by giving her sumptuous stolen gifts. «He always liked to look his best, even when stealing a can of food. So young and already talking about XIXth century writers. Philosophizing. Questioning everything. Theorizing about the individual and the group, about social hypocrisy, scapegoats, God and destiny, virginity and sex. He used to say that there was no pleasure comparable to thinking. And no, he wasn’t petulant or vague. He was simply … exhaustive.» Her need to put distance between herself and Knut when he becomes too obsessive, but also her unstoppable curiosity and her desire to live experiences that go beyond an excessively regulated existence, take Sonia towards a secret double life that traps her for years without the chance of escape.
In this unusual story, Sara Mesa goes back to themes that first appeared in her previous works, giving them form through a concise and electrical style in a cold and uncommunicative world whose rules are made only by the people who inhabit it. Cicatriz is not only a disquieting love story between two very different, but at the same time complementary, characters; it is also a reflection on consumer society, large-scale larceny in department stores, submission to power, the destruction of desire and carnality, the refuge of infancy, fantasy as an alternative, guilt and atonement, writing and literary vocation. The author of the celebrated Cuatro por cuatro (runner-up for the Premio Herralde de Novela), and soon to be published in French, confirms with Cicatriz that she is one of the most brilliant and original literary voices of her generation.
«From the perspective of a disquieting vision of contemporary life, both in Cicatriz as well as in her previous novel Cuatro por cuatro, Sara Mesa brings to life a high-voltage literature constructed with the precision of a goldsmith» (Rafael Chirbes).
«A book about that atavistic flirting that causes us to die killing. The story of an authentic amour fou that drew me in anxiously from beginning to end... An incredible book» (Marta Sanz).
«Sara Mesa has taken the risk of writing a love story in Cicatriz that says the unsayable about falling in love and being in love: we are all seduced by by being invented by our beloved, or inventing them, and we are swept up and corrupted by that lie. The best writing does just that: it names the unnameable» (Justo Navarro).
«In an atmosphere that evokes the labyrinths of Piranessi and the asphyxia of the dostoyevskian underground, Sara Mesa takes us closer to a world where artificiality and abuse, implacable provocations, a confusion that will end up concentrating on money -transactions-, submission in the face of power, guilt and the necessary atonement... a world which the reader immediately recognises, because it shows the society of consumption and spectacle, our society… » (Ana Rodríguez Fischer, Babelia, El País).
«An absorbing book in which we follow, like voyeurs, the turbid relationship between a man and a woman who live an anodyne existence… Cicatriz describes a fraud that hides desolation and solitude, but with an original structure that reveals and conceals both characters, each one motivated by the desire to escape normality and invent a new life… And us, the readers, feel trapped by this fascinating writing, which is both dark and luminous» (J.A. Masoliver Ródenas, La Vanguardia).
«An excellent contemporary novel about the journey of two young people into adulthood, with a special emphasis on their literary awakening. Sara Mesa confirms the positive expectations raised by her previous work» (Ángel Basanta, El Mundo).
«One of the achievements of the author is to tell the story from the perspective of Sonia, a character with whom the reader can easily identify, instead of the professionally and emotionally dubious figure of the attractively sinister Knut… Of the three novels that constitute Sara Mesa´s beginnings as a writer, Cicatriz, is by far, the best, and the one which most traps the attention of the reader. This is due to the originality of the situations and the always unpredictable and imaginative way they unfold -a strange love story of bizarre obsessions, turbid, impossible, corrupt from the beginning-; as well as for its two main characters, so different and, at the same time, so believable; and lastly, it is for Mesa´s writing, sober, direct, and worthy of every scene, dialogue or description, which takes us to a destination that is both open and closed. An excellent novel… a new achievement in a literary career that –we´re convinced- will keep on surprising us in the future» (José Martínez Ros, Estado Crítico).
«A complex story of the sentiments, pulsations and obsessions of the lost» (Alejandro Luque, El Correo de Andalucía).
«A hypnotic novel» (Inigo Urrutia, El Diario Vasco).
«Sara Mesa explores questions like love, in its most troubling manifestation, obsession, attraction and fetishism» (Alberto Gordo, El Cultural).
«Sara Mesa´s new novel is an extraordinary radiography of our age, of the virtual language that fills our lives, of those relationships mediated by the internet that become realities as false as they are absorbing… I´ve always regarded Sara Mesa as one of the essential writers on today´s literary scene. After reading her previous novel, Cuatro por cuatro, I´ve become a follower, joining aworld as personal as it is addictive» (Sergio Sancor, La Cueva del Erizo).
«If you want to discover what a toxic relationship looks like from the inside, look no further: Cicatriz shows it to perfection» (J. M. Pozuelo Yvancos, ABC)
«A story of obsession and consumer fetishism which creates a feeling of unease in the reader with its cold and minimalistic style… Sara Mesa is good at describing the shadow zones, the things that are left unsaid and the perversity of power relationships between people… Mesa admits that this is a story of amour fou, not in the romantic sense, but in the pathological one. Because hell can also be an imagined place» (Elena Hevia, El Periódico de Catalunya).
«The sub-world of virtual relationships has now become a subjectfor the best contemporary literature… With narrative rhythm the book describes a morbid relationship through the impeccable depiction of a persuasive and repellent neurotic who gets closer to his prey and who the reader, safe from his deceptions, encounters with delight. An addictive and sharp novel which promises to be one of the best of 2015» (Eduardo Laporte, El Correo Español).
«Cuatro por cuatro was celebrated by critics and by a great number of readers, who enjoyed one of the novels of the year. Some advice: if you haven’t read it yet, do so now… Her new book Cicatriz, is a profound novel that travels through the hidden corners of the mind, exploring the vulnerability of people, arduous gifts, money and the power of appearances… Cicatriz is one of those novels that leaves a mark, confirms the narrative skill of Sara Mesa and cements her position as one of the great voices of contemporary Spanish literature» (Cayetano Sánchez, Canarias7).
«Sara Mesa continues to explore the psychological profiles of the few who break the rules, of the excluded, of the people who refuse to conform and who can’t find their place in the world because they choose to be different… Cicatrizhas an original form with a chronology that jumps around and a structure that intercuts the voice of the narrator with the dialogues that the protagonists carry out by email, using narrative techniques more commonly found in short stories, like strategic silences and ellipsis. An agile, captivating and highly recommendable text» (Ricardo Reques, Diario de Córdoba).
«The temporal horizon of Cicatriz is, clearly, our present, when the internet has become one of the principle, if not the principle, ways in which strangers stop being strangers, in which new forms of relationship have emerged, as well as new forms of solitude… Cicatriz is, by a long way, Sara Mesa’s finsest novel to date and the one that best captivates the attention of the reader, thanks to theoriginality of the situation and the always unpredictable and imaginative way that it develops–a unique story of love and strange obsession, turbid, impossible, perverse from its beginnings…a story featuring two central characters who are so different, but at the same time, so believable… Mesa’s writing, sober, direct, perfect for every scene, dialogue and description, takes us towards a final that is both open and closed. A stupendous and captivating novel» (José Martínez Ros, Notodo.com).
«The fantasy increases in this novel of hidden injuries and open scars, the story of two people (the conventional Sonia and the mysterious Knut) who turn their unreal worlds into realities that envelop, invade and enslave like the consumer society that becomes an enormous stage for their solitude. Sara Mesa confirms the talent she revealed in her previous book Cuatro por cuatro... Because the fascination of the relationship is based on its indirectness, the author uses that to tell her story. Much is said between the lines… Cicatriz is free of any adornments that could have obstructed its inalterable rhythm while it weaves the intimate tapestry of its characters» (Tino Pertierra, Mercurio).
«Sara Mesa’s new novel, (effectively) a book about economic exchange, manages to unsettle the reader by showing, without needing to sermonize, how these exchanges can have unexpected consequences on our lives. Sonia understands the possibility for personal realization, a parenthesis in a life presided over by a son of whom she is a single mother, a mother, a sick grandmother, precarious employment, life in a city in the provinces. She is a kind of Emma Bovary without the money to become part of the world she aspires to... Cicatriz can be read in other ways, among them the talent and objective of the author to modernize the legacy of the epistolary novel and put it in the centre of Spanish literature through the skilful use of free association. Cicatriz tells us that literary relationships are, always, dangerous; but that within literature there is the possibility for empowerment and redemption that makes it worthtaking the risk» (Patricio Pron, El Boomeran(g)).
«The most curious aspect of this story is the splendid tone achieved by the narrator, a mixture of epistolary discourse and first-person narrative… Sara Mesa developssome of the qualities that she hinted at in previous novels, highlighting this vision of a society that participates in consumption and spectacle and, in the same proportion, disdain, provocation and, above all, slander, in the widest sense of the word» (Pedro M. Domene, Heraldo de Aragon).
«The story that is told, the anecdote, the aspects of the plot, should not distract us from the fact that this is a brutal depiction of the consumer society we inhabit, of the personal connections that we create as a result of our weaknesses and anxieties, and above all a literary work that is brilliantly written by an author who has found her voice and her style to the happy surprise of the reader» (Jesús Casals, El Blog – La Central).
«Sara Mesa uncovers the suspense of these lives in shadows, subject to the pretence of desire and lies with jumps through time. And with such a perfect and disturbing epilogue, where the scar on the skin reveals its true and intimate nature» (Guillermo Busutil, La Opinión de Málaga).
«Cicatriz, the excellent fourth novel by Sara Mesa, contains a love story, a criticism of consumer society, a case study of marginalized sexuality and a bitter portrait of literary vocation. The amazing thing isn’t that it manages to mix all these elements, but that it does so within the structure of an epistolary novel… Another virtue of this novel is that it never resorts to tired formulas… Mesa writes with a prosethat is free of commonplaces, and is always polished and precise, in which metaphors only occasionally appear, but almost always hidden in a verb: a window, for example, “pours” light; … There is a lot of beauty in Cicatriz, a beauty of conception, of narrative intelligence… The narrative voice, an impassive third-person, who nevermisses a comma despite the disaster that unfolds, relates the story to us through the voices of others. For example, one of Sonia’s thoughts: "Everything is delicate, steamy and, at the same time, profoundly perverse”» (Martín Schifino, Letras Libres).
«Cicatriz is one of the greatest epistolary novels written in Spanish, the work of a strange antique-modern writer» (Christopher Domínguez Michael, Letras Libres).
«A man, a woman. Two strangers and the Internet. From this threesome of which we have seen too many possible variations, Spanish author Sara Mesa creates a novel that defies every simple law of attraction in order to offer us a disturbing and off the chart portrait of human relations in an age where love is experienced or swept with a single click. (…) Taking a page from both The Gambler by Dostoyevsky and Dangerous Liaisons, Cicatriz takes a look at the ways in which an addiction takes over the lives of the characters never to lose hold… In holding a mirror up to a society plagued with virtual realities, Sara Mesa offers an unsparing portrait of a pixel monster that is weaving, imperceptibly, its terrifying web» (Ariane Singer, Le Monde).
«This contemporary fable is, in the end, quite sad: two lonely beings wind up not taking part in the world, trapped in a relationship that defies every rule and convention, starting from that of private property. They meet for a while, then cheat, grow apart and reunite. They uncover their failures and finally accept them. All that with no fanfare or drama, all the way to the end. A disturbing yet very pleasant story» (Flavie Gauthier, Le Soir)
«With much dexterity, Sara Mesa takes us on a visit to a world of signs, a desert that isn't quite ours anymore, that of the society of the spectacle and consumption. of course, in this immoral story where everything is imposture, troubled transactions, guilt and its expiation, no one will ever know who the angel is and who is the demon. Both characters lose their footing in their own way, but only one will drown. With much narrative virtuosity, Sara Mesa zeroes in on her two "heroes" who are overtaken by their desire and their inability to assume the consequences. The denial of reality can sometimes bring about beautiful children» (Livres Hébdo)
«This novel poses THE question in a world obsessed with virtuality: is reality still worth living? A diabolical and intense novel» (Biba)
«Sara Mesa describes a passion in the age of the Internet and social media—its pseudonyms, its lies and its masks. A well-executed thriller, peppered with dangerous liaisons» (Grazia)
«In an age of ‘sad passions’ there is nothing left. This novel does not give us reasons for relief or solace, but it is an honest book» (Vittorio Giacopini, Il Sole 24 Ore)
«A fiery love story at the right distance» (Brunella Schisa, Il Venederi di Repubblica)
«A disturbing love story but also a reflection on the sick society of today» (Luca Varani, In Famiglia)
«Sara Mesa builds a cruel mechanism… We can’t close the book without realizing, with more clarity than at other times, that cyber life is far from simple and vague, but oppressive—increasingly oppressive» (Michele Neri, Corriere della Sera)
«Sara Mesa has a distinct and unbiased style, that renews itself over the development of the relationship between Sonia and Knut without passing judgment. The novel is almost a report of the communication between the two characters and of how it transforms their lives; changes them. It is necessarily a contemporary novel, a novel about the difficulties of communication, about knowing our own identity for us and for the world, precisely in a world in which everything seems easy» (Alberto Grandi, Wired)
«Cold as ice, sharp as a blade, powerful as thunder—the writing of Sara Mesa tells a credible and fascinating story, with rhythm; both edgy and intense. Wonderful» (Gabriele Ottaviani, Convenzionali)
Sara Mesa (Madrid, 1976) has lived in Seville since childhood. She has published the novels Un incendio invisible (Premio Málaga de Novela) and El trepanador de cerebros, and the story collections No es fácil ser verde and La sobriedad del galápago. With her poetry collection Este jilguero she won the Premio Nacional de Poesía Miguel Hernández en 2007. With Anagrama she has published Cuatro por cuatro: «An original novel full of talent» (Pablo Martínez Zarracina, Bilbao); «A stripped-down language, using brief and forceful syntax, which often focuses on a suggestion or a detail as expressive as it is devastating» (Ana Rodríguez Fischer, El País); «A very good novel» (Eva Muñoz, La Vanguardia); «A new narrative voice emerges which is destined to lead to important things in Spanish fiction of the XXIst Century» (Ángel Basanta, El Mundo); «A cold and naked novel, full of powerful images that make the reader uneasy as they draw him in» (Marta Sanz, El Confidencial); «A disquieting invitation to look with new eyes at isolated educational environments» (María Bengoa, El Correo Español); «What can I say about a story in which everything works?... A new author that will surprise us further in future» (Sergio Sancor, Libros y literatura); «Sara Mesa. Don’t forget that name. The finalist for the XXXth Premio Herralde de Novela. Read it. Share it. Talk about it. Open the book and begin. You won’t be able to put it down.» (Uxue, Un libro al día).
Photo: © Sonia Fraga