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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Among the Hedges

by
Sara Mesa


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Among the Hedges



Title: Among the Hedges
Author: Sara Mesa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Among the Hedges - US
Cara de pan - US
Among the Hedges - UK
Among the Hedges - Canada
Quasi - Deutschland
Cara de pan - España
directly from: Open Letter
  • Spanish title: Cara de pan
  • Translated by Megan McDowell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a well-conceived and turned short novel

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
ABC . 18/9/2018 J.M.Pozuelo Yvancos
El Cultural . 21/9/2018 Ascensión Rivas
FAZ . 7/3/2020 Elena Witzeck


  From the Reviews:
  • "La trama no necesitaba esa causalidad, no necesariamente plausible. Fuera de ese extremo, resulta un mecanismo muy bien urdido para tratar la verdadera cuestión que la novela se ha propuesto: el rechazo social a la diferencia, sentida, como suele ser, como deficiencia." - José María Pozuelo Yvancos, ABC

  • "Con Cara de pan, Sara Mesa ha escrito un pequeño libro importante que invita a pararse y reflexionar sobre la realidad que nos atrapa, una historia llena de metáforas que bordea el abismo de lo establecido y nos obliga a pensar sobre la lógica interna -- aparentemente loca -- de las cosas y sobre lo que socialmente se considera correcto. También sobre el acoso adolescente, la maduración personal y lo distinto que es el mundo cuando se mira sin el conocimiento y los prejuicios adultos, con los ojos del niño que fuimos y algunos todavía son." - Ascensión Rivas, El Cultural

  • "Die Kraft dieser sich häutenden Erzählung. Schicht für Schicht fällt sie ab mit der wachsenden Freundschaft, dem Sichanvertrauen zweier in dieser Welt Verlorener. (...) Das andere ist die Sprache. Sara Mesa ist Lyrikerin, jede Begegnung hat bei ihr Rhythmus und Klang, jede Betonung ihren Grund, jeder Augenblick sein eigenes Licht." - Elena Witzeck, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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:

       Among the Hedges takes place largely ... among the hedges, in a large city park. A thirteen-year-old-girl has stopped going to school and instead retreats daily to the ideal spot she found, a sheltered place in the park where she can spend the school-hours completely unobserved and on her own.
       She was teased at school, nicknamed by 'Marshmallow' by one of her classmates -- something that hit too close to home:

She didn't know she was a marshmallow until last year, when Marga called her that in front of the other girls, and they all laughed spontaneously -- without malice, so there was no point in getting mad; it was an affectionate comment, so the only possible reaction was to join in the laughter -- to fake it -- and then scrutinize herself in the mirror.
       (The Spanish original has the nickname -- and also the title of the novel -- as: 'cara de pan', i.e. something like 'bread-face'; 'marshmallow' certainly seems a good, doughy English variation.)
       As isolated as her retreat is, another figure does stumble onto it, a man decades older than her; he tells her he is fifty-four, but to her, of course, he is just indistinctly old;
she would have believed any age he told her, whether forty-four or sixty-four -- to her this man is an old man and old men have ages as variable as they are inconceivable.
       So she decides to call him 'Old Man', and they settle on 'Soon' -- as in "soon-to-be fourteen" -- for her. (She does tell him her actual name, but when she says he hates it they settle on this alternative.)
       Old Man is clearly a damaged soul of sorts, too. He wears a fine but well-worn suit; he obviously doesn't have a job or much money. He is an avid birdwatcher, and a Nina Simone-enthusiast. Soon recognizes his difference but only in a general sense:
That's how Old Man operates: he doesn't connect facts the way other people would, doesn't measure cause and effect in the same way. He considers things that would surprise others to be normal, and also the opposite, he's surprised by normal things. And yet, he is absolutely not dumb, thinks Soon: he knows so much information, so many details, he's so intelligent when it comes to useless things.
       Soon is wary of him at first -- as a stranger, as a man, having been taught of the dangers they can pose -- but is soon fairly confident that he is, in fact, harmless. He comes to share her well-hidden retreat, showing up day after day as well. She doesn't entirely let her guard down, but the situation seems safe enough. He certainly treads carefully -- and comes across as so guileless that it's hard to believe he is capable of anything inappropriate.
       Soon's success at skipping school does seem a bit implausible, though Mesa does suggest a scenario to explain it. While Soon realizes that mere unexcused absence would quickly arouse attention, she does think of a good bureaucratic trick that at least delays the inevitable. Eventually, the authorities piece things together and her ruse will be uncovered, but it works for a surprisingly long time. Her parents, however, are curiously oblivious.
       Among the Hedges is a two-part novel. The much longer first part takes place largely in 'The Park' and explores the cautious relationship between the two damaged souls, the simple-seeming Old Man and the awkward young teen Soon. Mesa neatly presents these two characters and enough of their circumstances to give a good sense of each; she's particularly strong on Soon's adolescent uncertainty about her identity and place, and her fumbling towards maturity -- which includes keeping a diary, complete with embellished entries .....
       The shorter second part takes place in 'The Café', a year after their time together in the park came to an abrupt end -- a messy collapse of Soon's best-laid school-avoiding plans and some bits her parents figured out about what she had been up to. Soon and Old Man meet in a café, and we learn what happened and the consequences it had for both of them. In some ways, it was a tragi-comedy of misunderstandings, and here again Mesa is particularly good at teenage inarticulateness: Soon simply can't explain to the would-be adults in the various rooms (and they can't imagine anything even approximating what really played out).
       The now widely ingrained uneasiness about any dynamics between a young girl and a (much) older man spending a great time alone together looms over the whole book -- deftly used by Mesa also in how things play out, as readers' misgivings about the situation mirror those of the other adults in the story. Cleverly, the very simpleness of the Old Man character complicates the scenario -- though he is, as is, arguably too perfect a character for the story Mesa has conceived. In Soon, on the other hand, Mesa captures female adolescence exceptionally well and convincingly.
       Among the Hedges is a well-crafted short novel with two well-drawn and very different outsider-protagonists, provocative in how it both defies and confirms a variety of reader- (and society's) expectations.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 May 2021

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Links:

Among the Hedges: 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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© 2021 the complete review

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