Four by Four
Cuatro por cuatro
Four by Four opens with the reader following a group of girls, led by Celia, who have escaped from a school only to be caught and returned to the institution once again. Wybrany College, the school from which they fled, is a boarding school completely cut off from the outside world and home to the children of wealthy families; the only ones who have any reason to hope that they can save themselves from a world in such a state of decay that life in the cities has become impossible.
However, Wybrani college is also home to those children called the “particulars”, children with grants whose parents work for the project. The relationships between both groups and among them, and those between the teachers and the members of the Director’s Board – Mr J., the Ass, or the Guide – will drag the reader deep into a microcosm dominated by manipulation and isolation. Using a fragmented narrative, which is both indirect and very refined, the first part of the novel is a kind of enigma whose meaning is revealed only later on.
In the second part of the novel the reader’s perspective changes when Isidro Bedragare bursts onto the scene, a substitute teacher who begins to note down in a diary his version of events that take place within the strange boarding school. He too hides a secret. Narrated in a peculiar style which plays with shadow and insinuation, the reader is allowed to gradually discover a self sufficient literary universe within the novel that is disquieting and enigmatic.
The novel is defined by its own norms which appeal to relationships of power between the characters and a sordid violence that lies latent, always at the point of eruption. In this excellent novel, Sara Mesa goes further in creating her own literary space, which always exists on the borders on reality. She creates characters marked by desolation and powerlessness, uses a suppressed humour, and a subtle trace of criticism can be detected. Four by Four is in fact an ode to liberty by means of showing the opposite: oppression, isolation, and fear of the outside create monsters.
«An original novel full of talent, an oppressive fable in which nothing is what it seems and in which its author shows herself to have some striking credentials: it is about somebody capable of creating a sophisticated nightmare using only one stroke of fine line» (Pablo Martínez Zarracina, Bilbao).
«This is refined language, made up of short and persuasive syntax, which often relies upon suggestion or fixation on a detail that is as expressive as it is devastating… A brave novel, because as much as it propels that microcosm it can be applied to wider social spaces within which we all move, and because it is anchored in literature» (Ana Rodríguez Fischer, El País).
«Sara Mesa has brought a new narrative voice to the scene that is in a position to bear important fruit for the genre of the Spanish novel in the twenty first century. Already in Four by Four an author has been discovered with the capacity for artistic integration of different stylistic registers within the same novel and with a real talent for representing reality. Four by Four is an account of the sinister relationships of power corrupted by fear and latent violence that feed this social parable of Kafkian roots» (Ángel Basanta, El Mundo).
«The book’s action takes place in a boarding school… Sara Mesa uses this backdrop for her meditation on the relationships that are formed in closed spaces and the undercurrents of violence that generate hierarchy; in this case between students (the wealthy and those with scholarships), the teachers and the school management. On the outside there is danger, on the inside is protection, the rules, but there also exists evil… Secrets, class difference, abuse of power and the oppressive space are the common denominators of all the parts of this sordid tale, that to a certain extent reminds us of Elvira Navarro and which, upon finishing, leaves us ice cold and wanting more» (Álex Gil, Qué Leer).
«A story of adolescent initiation set in a luxurious boarding school completely isolated from the rest of the world… Everything comes together to form a perturbing stage of lies and abuses of power where violence is exercised to the point of cruelty on those who are the weakest. This is a unsettling invitation to look at isolated educational environments from a different perspective» (María Bengoa, El Correo Español).
«With Four by Four the writer Sara Mesa has definitely placed herself within the literary panorama» (Álvaro Colomer, Yo Dona).
«One of the most promising authors of today, who stands out among other virtues for her despairing vision and her talent for creating charged atmospheres, as well as her capacity for creating singular characters, frequently despicable to those who observe with malevolent humour not exempt of compassion» (Braulio Ortiz, Málaga Hoy).
«In her accomplished climate of oppression and isolation characters within a strict hierarchy are unravelled, within which nobody misses an opportunity to abuse their inferiors, sometimes to the point of cruelty… Sara manages to make a more than effective mark on history, preparing the ground for an ending that is both definitive and open to diverse interpretation… One of the best surprises of the past year in Spanish narrative material, a huge step in the author’s growth. In Four by Four, Sara has achieved one of the highest aspirations of a writer, to become worthy of entering her own library. I recommend her novel using the same remark that she used to refer to the much admired Bohumil Hrabal: “We wait with anticipation and little patience for more titles: this is unique literature for readers looking for something a bit different” » (Alejandro Luque, blog Estado Crítico).
«A stupendous Sevillan writer» (Antonio Soler, El Mundo).
«A very good novel» (Eva Muñoz, La Vanguardia)
«Sara Mesa’s prose has gradually strengthened, gaining depth and ambition, without abandoning her other inclinations: unsettling and oppressive atmospheres, characters powerless against the force of their destinies, and that which the author likes to call “perverse utopias”, collective dreams condemned to failure again and again, burdened heavily by the community’s worst instincts» (Alejandro Luque, Mercurio).
«Absorbing at every instance, Four by Four has the perverse virtue of being able to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the institute and the practice of abuse that take place there, but with the magnificent ability of a writer who aims more than she fires» (Cayetano Sánchez, Canarias 7).
«The creation of Four by Four’s literary framework was a refined and accurate process. Absolutely loyal to the belief that insinuation is better than crudely displayed horror; its jumps in time make up a jigsaw puzzle of sensations that do not allow the reader a single moment of relief» (Óscar Mora, Información).
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
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