Acclaimed writer Sara Mesa, in a novel brilliantly translated from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore, wields language like a knife, cutting apart hidden secrets of abuse ... This is a linguistically precise, stylistically spare and emotionally devastating look at the corrosive effect of abuse and power imbalance, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackson and Samanta Schweblin.
First, some warnings: Do not read Four by Four at bedtime, during heightened pandemic anxiety, or while feeling in any way susceptible to agitation. This is a profoundly agitating book. From its first scene, in which a quartet of teenage girls try and fail to flee their ominous-seeming boarding school, menace pervades Sara Mesa's prose. She rapidly makes clear that something is rotten not only at the school, but in the borderline-apocalyptic Spanish society around it. Mesa, who has published six novels and three story collections, is lauded in Spain as a rigorous, empathic chronicler of working-class experience, and here, socioeconomic disparity proves to be the root of horror ... Mesa is remarkably patient in revealing the latter. For the novel's first three-quarters, she lets a sense of wrongness simmer and grow, creating suspense so strong I could barely set the book down. She deftly mixes immersive narration and relentless creepiness with incisive class commentary; by the novel's end, I was appalled both for its characters and for my own world.
Like Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel, or even Bong Joon-ho’s
Parasite, the rich are left rotting in a swamp of their own design. For this reason, the book is strikingly relevant ... [Whittemore's] translation eases Mesa’s style into an eloquent English. The result is succinct, alarming, lovely—a book written in the vein of classics, a story within a story within a story, in which readers of Spanish-language literature will find echoes of Cortázar’s seminal Hopscotch. Whittemore brings Four by Four closer to us, to our reality, making us uncomfortably aware of the truth it is based in...Whittemore’s translation crawls brusquely out of
the darkness ... Spanish or English, first-person or third-person, Four by Four is an uncomfortably real look into the absurd world of the bourgeoisie. It is so complex and layered that, to reach a full understanding, one may have to read it two or even three times. Not a single character, after all, is what they seem.