Thursday, 23 April 2020

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Reviewer: Catriona Troth 

What We Thought of it:

In 2017, Kendasamy published When I Hit You Or, Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. She made it clear it was not a memoir. Nevertheless, many insisted on focusing on the parallels to Kandasamy’s own short but brutal marriage and ignoring the pyrotechnic brilliance of her prose or the intricacy of the novel’s structure.

“No one discusses the process with us. No one discussion our work in the framework of the movel as an evolving form. No one treats us as writers.”

Exquisite Cadavers is Kandasamy’s attempt to reclaim her right to set the boundaries between her life and her fiction. The title references the game of Consequences, sometimes called Exquisite Cadaver, where each player writes a section of a story, knowing only the final word of the previous section. The novel is structured in two parts – the fiction, centred on the marriage of two people deliberately as different from Kandasamy and her husband as possible, and a parallel set of marginalia, a glimpse into the author’s reflections and inspirations, journal entries of what is happening in her life as the novel is taking shape on the page.

Karim, the fictional husband, is a Tunisian film student, living in London, frustrated by the casual expectation that he can only make certain kinds of films, tell certain kinds of stories. Maya, his wife, is English, sometimes blind to his struggles. We as readers become privy to the minutiae of their daily lives, to the banality of domesticity, even as Karim asks himself if he should return to Tunis to join its political struggles.

“Nothing hides mutual disdain as well as a marriage. Noting hides a marriage-in-shambles as well as a spruced up, orderly home.”

In the marginalia, by contrast, we get a mixture of diary entries from Kandasamy’s own domestic life and a furious commentary – on her own writing process and on the unfolding political situation in India.

If you love the privilege of dipping into a writer’s notebooks, of rummaging in the “messy attics” of their minds and observing the process of creation, then this novel is for you.

One word of warning, though – I do not recommend buying this as an ebook. The careful formatting of side-by-side narratives is entirely lost, leaving you with two broken sequences that force you constantly to go back and forth to pick up the thread you last dropped. It is a pity that the publisher did not treat the book at they might a graphic novel and ensure that the formatting remained as intended.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved:
Ordinary People by Diana Evans, glimpses of author's notebooks

Avoid If You Dislike: Throwing away the conventional rules of story-telling

Perfect Accompaniment: Darjeeling tea

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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