Wednesday, 7 March 2018

When I Hit You Or Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari.

If Winnie M Li’s award winning Dark Chapter is the fictionalised account of the author’s brutal rape by a stranger, this is a fictionalised account of another, perhaps more common type of sexual abuse – domestic violence and rape within a marriage.

Kandasamy wrote about the abuse within her own short but brutal marriage in an article for Outlook magazine in 2012. This is not, however, a memoir. Like her unnamed narrator, Kandasamy is a writer – articulate, politically aware, a feminist. As her narrator uses the tools of the writer to survive, to plot her escape and eventually to get away and start life again, so Kandasamy uses fiction to make it possible to tell her story fully and intimately. As the narrator says towards the end of the book:

I am the woman who stands in place of the woman who loathes to enter this story in any of its narrations ... I am the woman conjured up to take on the life of a woman afraid of facing her own reality.

The story is told through many different lenses. It begins with the mother recounting, over and over, the state of her daughter’s feet when she fled home. It covers letters written to imaginary lovers, and deleted before her husband can come home and read them. It goes through story boards of films she will make of her experiences, before dropping, intermittently into unvarnished accounts of a classic pattern of domestic abuse – control, isolation, verbal abuse, physical, sexual, and finally death threats.

This male psychological logic looks at penetration as punishment. This is the rape that disciplines, the rape that penalizes me for the life I have presumably led. This is the rape that tames, the rape that puts me on the path of being a good wife.

There is poetry in this prose, and a humour so dark it’s like pepper on the tongue.

When the narrator finally escapes and speaks about what has happened to her, she faces the shaming women in her position so often meet. Why did she not run away? Why did she stay, if things were as bad as she says? How much of this was really not consensual? Kandasamy answers these questions squarely within the narrative, taking you so deep inside her narrator's head you are forced to understand, to acknowledge the funnelling of her choices into just one, narrow conduit.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li,  A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Avoid If You Dislike:
Frank and intimate depiction of domestic and sexual violence

Perfect Accompaniment: Cumin and coconut, turmeric and chilli flakes, cinnamon and star anise

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

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