Women's Prize for Fiction 2018: When I Hit You; or a Portrait of the Writer as a Wife

Meena Kandasamy's domestic violence narrative is a punch in the gut. 

Women's Prize for Fiction 2018: When I Hit You; or a Portrait of the Writer as a Wife

We all know what it feels like to be young and headstrong when in love or heartbroken from love. But for most of us this doesn’t result in an abusive marriage, domestic violence and rape. For Meena Kandasamy’s unnamed first person narrator however, her misguided intellectual engagement with a university professor results in a marriage which is nothing short of torture.

We know from the get go that our narrator escapes this situation, so rather than waiting to see how it ends, the narrative is more about how his abuse unfolds. This novel is directed at those who question women’s narratives, who ask ‘why didn’t she leave?’ or ‘why didn’t she call the police?’. We see how a woman, particularly in Indian society, can be cut off from her family and the rest of her life, and become utterly at the mercy of her husband and his ideologies, forced to submit in order to survive.

The novel is a painful illustration of gaslighting, with the narrator’s feminist beliefs turned back on her as an indictment of her middle-class privilege by her uber-communist husband. The novel is immersed in academia, and highly intelligently pokes holes in the paradox of her husband’s ideologies, beginning with the fact that he labels being a writer as too bourgeois for our narrator, but his role as a university professor goes uncritiqued. However the wit involved in this does not entertain for long when the narrator is on the receiving end of physical abuse and nightly rapes because of it, with her parents telling her to endure or she will shame them. While any woman could identify with the emotional abuse her husband subjects her to, it is clear that when he makes her cover up, or calls her misogynist slurs, this is much more shameful in Indian culture.

This novel is difficult to read, and I would attach a trigger warning for anyone else who has suffered abuse. However, it is an absolutely necessary one on a number of counts, namely understanding the perspective of a survivor and allowing her a voice after shy has been systematically and violently silenced. However, it also illustrates the complicity of liberal intellectuals in sexism and misogyny, as well as violence against women, condemning the far left.

Kandasamy’s language is beautiful and visceral, with some sentences utterly sickening, while others reach beyond lyrical to pure poetry – unsurprising since Kandasamy is also a poet. Her writing is touching and heartbreaking and as searing as the violence of its title. This book is redefining fiction as part poetry, part auto-biography, yet wholly savage realism.

  • This review was first published on the author's own blog See Orange


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 30 April 2018, 10:41 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    This is really powerful stuff!

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