Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018, this novel from Kandasamy reflects on an unnamed woman’s marriage to an abusive man, and her reclamation of her identity and power through writing.
...a very of-the-moment story of domestic abuse ... Intellectual and physical cruelty is explored with Nabokovian ingenuity ... It’s gasp-worthy reading. Reading with the stomach. The process itself becomes precarious and unsafe, trapping you within three rooms in Mangalore. Yet it is also through writing that the only oases come ... though thoroughly harrowing, Kandasamy’s writing is also funny, tender and lyrical, usually simultaneously. When trauma is ever-present, the other qualities only have the option to mix with it ... But Kandamasay’s lyrical register can add a tinge of grandiosity and melodrama that the narrative doesn’t require ... Yet Kandasamy has given us a 3D, complex experience of abuse, full of roundly-explored characters, without compromising the purity of her message.
The narrator of When I Hit You is an outspoken leftist and poet. A millennial, she craves romance and dissects her sexual liaisons with winningly dry humour. This pursuit is rendered with a poet’s cadence ... the narrative steams ahead at an exhilarating pace ... [Kandasamy's] is exactly the sort of voice the Indian far right seeks to silence. But to restrict her autopsy of violence to the Asia shelf of bookstores would be misleading. Its beating heart is a universally recognised quest for freedom and meaning in a world where women are still shockingly undervalued. There is sex; there are — surprisingly — laughs. There is a narrator more than capable of taking on the patriarchy. In the Shonda Rhimes version of Kandasamy’s novel, the narrator would get away with murder.
It would be easy to ask, 'What kind of woman would allow that?' Or even, 'Why did she stay?' In 2012, when Kandasamy, a poet, translator and activist, wrote about her brief, violent marriage for the Indian magazine Outlook, these are the kinds of questions she was asked. When I Hit You is her urgent4memoir might offer; she is very clear that this is a work of fiction — of imagination, not of memory ... This book is Kandasamy’s rebuke to those who think privilege, financial or educational, protects against harm. Her characters are never named, their anonymity allowing the reader to slip easily into their skins ... Kandasamy is too skilled a writer to give us a caricature of an abusive man ... The book’s subtitle makes an ambitious nod to James Joyce, to the coming-of-age genre. Each chapter contains an epigraph by the likes of Kamala Das, Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, Zora Neale Hurston. These writers’ words have survived, and provided comfort, across time and cultures. And within the book, an answer — no, a warning — to the husband: Should I remind you that your wife is also a writer? And what is a writer, if not the one who gets to shape the narrative, to have the last word?