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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sara Mesa

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To purchase Scar

Title: Scar
Author: Sara Mesa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 167 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Scar - US
Cicatriz - US
Scar - UK
Scar - Canada
Cicatrice - France
Cicatrice - Italia
Cicatriz - España
  • Spanish title: Cicatriz
  • Translated by Adriana Nodal-Tarafa

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Our Assessment:

B : unusual obsessive/stalker/codependents (of sorts) story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 8/6/2017 Ariane Singer
El País . 20/4/2015 Ana Rodríguez Fischer

  From the Reviews:
  • "D’une écriture très maîtrisée, dont l’épure rajoute à l’atmosphère angoissante du récit, Sara Mesa explore les mécanismes psychologiques qui rendent possible la soumission d’un personnage à un autre. Ici, ni violence apparente ni effet de frayeur. Le roman, dont l’intrigue progresse lentement, par paliers, sur plusieurs années, vers une issue aussi redoutée qu’incertaine, joue finement des rapports de domination et de culpabilisation qu’inflige le garçon à sa proie dès lors que celle-ci tente de s’abstraire à cette relation." - Ariane Singer, Le Monde

  • "(E)n Cicatriz, Sara Mesa reduce drásticamente el mundo narrativo y ancla su perturbadora historia en dos personajes tan impares como complementarios. (...) En una atmósfera que evoca los laberintos carcelarios de Piranessi y la asfixia del subsuelo dostoievskiano, Sara Mesa nos asoma a un mundo donde anidan la impostura, el acoso que nace del desdén y el desprecio, la provocación implacable, la turbiedad que acabará concretándose en dinero -- transacciones --, la sumisión ante el poder, la culpa y su obligada expiación...un mundo que el lector reconoce de inmediato, porque es el nuestro, el de la sociedad de consumo... y del espectáculo." - Ana Rodríguez Fischer, El País

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Scar chronicles the relationship between Sonia and a man calling himself Knut (as in Knut Hamsun), an odd, sustained relationship marked by a strange and at-a-distance codependency.
       A short prologue of sorts -- chapter 0 -- presents them meeting, without revealing to readers who they are yet, just an anonymous man and woman, revealing a bit more to each other. As the reader eventually learns, they have in fact known each other -- in a manner of speaking -- for many years before this encounter; indeed, the first (numbered) chapter returns to 'Seven Years Before'. Scar repeatedly shifts in this way -- if not so extremely --, the story unfolding basically chronologically but also repeatedly taking a step back for many of those forward, an interesting way of shining a different light on that which was just presented. Short chapters get ahead of the story, as it were, while the action unfolds more fully in the longer ones that then cover the ground before.
       The story essentially begins when Sonia is a twenty-two-year-old with a boring and essentially pointless job ("transferring the information on the old card indexes to a database") with essentially no supervision or direction, leaving her with a great deal of free time on her hands. She spends some of it online -- "mainly in chat rooms and forums". She likes the online world: "She's always liked wearing masks."
       She enjoys spending time in a literary forum, intrigued enough by this other-world and its pseudonymous inhabitants that when the forum members organize a dinner in distant Cárdenas -- "about seven hundred kilometers from her city" -- she goes through the trouble and expense of attending. It perhaps doesn't quite live up to what she had imagined, and when she gets home she's almost ready to delete her forum account -- but she gets a private message from one of the forum members who was not in attendance, the man calling himself Knut Hamsun. He's intrigued by what he heard about her from others who were at the dinner, and proposes a simple exchange:

You send me a picture so I can see you. In return, I'll send you any book you ask for. You can ask for several. It's no problem.
       Sonia does ask another forum member for advice -- and promptly ignores it. Without a digital camera, cellphone with a camera, or computer at home it's not that straightforward, but she sends a scanned picture. And soon she receives a package of books -- though Knut does ask to be reimbursed for the shipping.
       So begins their odd back and forth. Knut is happy to shower her with gifts -- books, mainly, but soon also other things, including perfume and eventually clothes. He admits -- he boasts -- that he steals them. It's what he does, he's a dedicated amateur shoplifter. Sonia isn't entirely comfortable with all this, but also finds it hard to resist. Knut makes practically no demands in return; he's not really a stalker. He's just a kind of creepy, overzealous and persistent underachiever.
       Knut does encourage Sonia to write, and to find inspiration in the books he sends -- which he tries to discuss with her (him generally far more involved than her, as is the case in almost everything between them).
       For most of the novel, there's very little sense of Sonia's life aside from Knut -- family or friends -- and the rare occasions when others stumble to the periphery of her little world she seems to more or less ignore and reject them. So when a friend tries to reason with her, Sonia has no difficulty putting her own deluded rationalizing spin on things:
He wants something, and if you don't listen to me, one day this story is going to blow up in your face, she warned. But they aren't gifts, strictly speaking, Sonia explained. There's a sort of agreement established. He likes that she writes to him, he wants to discuss books, share opinions about life.
       There is, of course, a sense of menace, but Scar isn't your usual stalker novel. Their interaction remains at a very low simmer; even when Knut becomes more insistent, it manifests itself largely in him sending her more things, and more expensive things. Sonia simply: "incorporates Knut into her everyday life like another routine, sometimes burdensome, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes beneficial".
       A rupture comes: Sonia meets a man and marries him, and though she continues to write to Knut for a while, eventually she decides to make a clean break. Knut isn't pleased, but the contact stops -- until, almost seamlessly, three years later, it is Sonia who re-initiates it.
       By this time Sonia has a husband and child, a better job, a life. She could move on -- she seems to have -- and yet she is compelled to move back. Knut isn't quite the same -- there are other women in his life, for example, and he tells Sonia about them -- but they quickly fall back into the same old pattern, Knut showering Sonia with shoplifted gifts.
       Though Knut is the pesky, overbearing one in their relationship, it is Sonia who makes some of the most decisive steps in continuing it -- from getting in touch with him long after the first break to taking the initiative in taking a day-trip to Cárdenas to meet in person.
       From the beginning, what Knut does is all a bit much. He even urges her to quit his job, willing to shoplift and, absurdly, send most of the basics she might need to live on (though still insisting on being reimbursed for the shipping costs). Reality -- such as her marriage (barely addressed in the novel, as if a mere incidental episode in her life) -- breaks apart, as this strange co-dependent construct grows: "Fantasizing becomes a necessity for both".
       Reality is of course inescapable, and collapses; and it is Sonia whose betrayal precipitates it. (Along the way she has become a published author; as in much of the novel, causes and effects here too are hopelessly intertwined.)
       Scar is an intriguing psychological study, of two characters who aren't whole, and whose deep, confused relationship doesn't bloom or founder on the expected passions of romantic and physical love (not that there isn't a slight edge of that to it, of course, but it barely matters).
       All of Knut's shoplifting -- from his methods and expertise to the goods he passes on to Sonia -- can get tiresome -- though that's presumably also intentional, both because Knut is meant to be a very tiresome figure, and the focus on commerce and capitalism is ... well, the usual, here not-so-veiled, critique .....
       The telling is often quite effective -- especially Mesa's short leaps ahead and then more expansive looks at what brought the characters there -- but not entirely sustained. Still, it works quite well and Scar is, in its oddities -- including how very much it is not your typical stalker-type novel --, an intriguing work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 August 2017

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Scar: Reviews: Other books by Sara Mesa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Sara Mesa was born in 1976.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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