Kandasamy is one of the rising stars of contemporary literature ... Kandasamy looks the reader directly in the eye ... the results scrolling down the page margins creates a peculiar poetry ... The key question about Exquisite Cadavers, however, is does all of this work?...That is the hardest question to answer, because the terms are that it should be an experiment – there has never been a book quite like this. Better to ask, then, whether it surprises, grips, makes the reader take notice – all those things literature is supposed to do – to which the answer is, easily, yes, yes, and yes again.
... deeply lyrical, with space given for thoughts to build ... With the writer present on the page, every choice feels driven. The result is an exploration of how discrimination can pull and pick at intimacy. Kandasamy’s presence only enhances the fiction; her sense of life and art introducing a never-ending conversation between writer, text and reader ... The reader must make a choice about how to read Exquisite Cadavers — but it isn’t difficult. There is a natural step-back, step-forward between the two sides of the page, like letting yourself be moved by waves. The margins aren’t pedantic, but powerful ruminations on Kandasamy’s role as artist, and the news and research that dominate her mind as she writes ... a book that is slyly funny and profoundly thoughtful. It is common for critics and readers to belittle women by assuming they write out of catharsis rather than to create. Exquisite Cadavers is not just a fierce rebuttal. It’s a work of brilliance.
... a cinematic, Bergerian self-regard permeates the text ... Kandasamy is needling us gleefully, making the margins a space of defiance, and the repossession of authorial prerogative. She is showing us the sleight of hand in slow motion, and grinning from ear to ear as she does so. Sometimes the delight stumbles ... Exquisite Cadavers is a backflipping rebuke to the nexus of culture- and capital-making which would seek to backhandedly praise her bravery over her craft, and thereby keep her pushed to the sidelines. It is a joy.
Often, the authorial notes are more satisfying than the fiction, but they come together to explore overlapping themes. What transpires is a rich and absorbing text full of allusion to domestic Indian politics, Marxism and feminism. It’s equally a fascinating account of a writer’s process, and a successful reclamation of her own authorial control. If what we write is of course informed by what we know, Exquisite Cadavers asks the old question of why books written by women are dismissed as memoir so often, but does so in a remarkably fresh way. Kandasamy’s work becomes more bold and exciting with each new book.
Kandasamy is also a poet, and it shows in some brilliantly distilled writing. But as they have only half the 100 pages, they remain elusive ... its domestic story is an escape, while its rage-filled notes are a work of consciousness-raising ... The fictional narrative doesn’t seem that removed, really ... This does not mean Exquisite Cadavers is a failed experiment – it’s a fascinating one, and we get to witness the author working it out on the page. The cleverness of Kandasamy’s bricolage is that it allows her to explicitly separate fiction and memoir, while ensuring they’re intimately intertwined.
[Kandasamy's] polemical voice is present on almost every page, providing commentary on her research for this book, and its messy personal and political intersections, in the margins by the text. There’s an inherent challenge here for us to let the main narrative stand without necessitating either a separation from, or conflation with, Kandasamy, as a person, artist and activist: 'did I manage to evade my activism by living abroad and staying in the margins?', she asks, tongue firmly in cheek ... Kandasamy’s activism does not stay in the margins, of her life or her art; she recalls, in her own voice, friends and fellow activists being arrested for their opposition to India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi; and being asked to speak 'as a feminist' on women’s prisons in India.
The book feels like a retrospectively crafted map to her earlier works; in a place in the margins Kandasamy writes that she read the films to read her ex-husband: an instruction, perhaps? Of how she wants us to read her ... Kandasamy has a particular deftness in portraying a radiography of strained relationships ... she places a great deal of emphasis on the infection that closed spaces bring into human relations ... Exquisite Cadavers is a study in the breach of this line between fiction and non-; it is a fluoroscopy of the movement between the two, the leakages between – for when have the margins '…exhibited any tendency to respect my decision to cautiously separate the fictional and the real?' ... How does one read a book like this, though? One that not only breaches our understandings of fiction but also that of how a page should look. There is actually no perfect way to read Exquisite Cadavers. It challenges our reading habits – at least it did mine. She urges us to reread, to suture the story in our heads where gulping it down ready-made feels normal. To slow read and to find refuge in the words, to come undone in their presence instead of merely looking for a finiteness that eludes Exquisite Cadavers.
All along, we get a carefully-constructed, running commentary in the margins with anecdotes and lists from the writer's own upbringing and relationships, and ideas about her politics and her craft. At times, the marginalia shapes the scaffolding of the main fictional story. But, just as often, it is a window into the parallel universe of the writer as she creates. There are also some segments of silence in these margins — spaces for the reader's imagination to interpret aspects of the main story. The points of divergence between the two stories are just as important as the points of convergence because of how they reflect the writer's inspirations, aspirations, and apprehensions. Text matters, subtext matters more, and what's not referenced or documented in the margins is also revelatory ...So, for Kandasamy, as a woman writer of color, taking on this avant-garde storytelling style is not simply a subversive statement. It is about laying claim to an intellectual space that is generally not allowed to writers like her. At times, she isn't able to fully scale the climb she has set out for herself with this slim volume. What matters most, however, is that Kandasamy has beautifully scaled an artistic summit often denied to writers like her. Her success is that we, as readers and reviewers, are drawn to deliberate the creative merits of her singular experiment rather than her personal life, even though it's been laid bare in these margins.
Giving us a story as well as the process of creating it, this novella is a brave experiment. But it does not always succeed ... An invention by the French surrealists, exquisite cadavers refers to a game in which words are assembled into a piece of writing by each player in turn. Playing on this technique in her new novel, Meena Kandasamy gives importance to both the story and her process ... This may be a slim book, but she manages to pack in two powerful stories. This is as much a book about the personal as it is about the political; about Britain and Tunisia as it is about India; and about Maya and Karim as it is about Kandasamy ... Filled with insight, wry humour and uncomfortable observations, Kandasamy’s work is a clever little rebuttal. I found the format interesting, but her notes heavy-handed in parts and veering off in different directions. However, as a novella, Exquisite Cadavers manages to grip as well as rattle.
In Kandasamy’s bold, inventive latest, a young couple struggles with the pressures of domestic life and Islamophobia in London.This is both an excellent exercise in form and a deeply evocative love story.