book review: When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

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WHEN I HIT YOU: OR, A PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A YOUNG WIFE by Meena Kandasamy
★★★★★
Atlantic Books, March 2018

When I Hit You is a brutal and uncompromising look at one woman’s abusive marriage in India. I’m at a complete loss for words with this book – I just want to shove it into everyone’s hands who has ever asked ‘if the relationship is abusive, why doesn’t she just leave?’ Kandasamy answers that question with unapologetic candor, in this semi-autobiographical novel that fuses lyricism with forthrightness in a way that’s utterly striking.

The narrator in When I Hit You is an aspiring writer and a self-proclaimed feminist, who falls in love with a university professor who, to all outward appearances, is intelligent and charming. Not far into their marriage he begins to show his true colors, physically and verbally abusing in an effort to bully her into submission. She eventually escapes – we know this from the first page – and the book flits back and forth between before and after, though not necessarily in a linear chronology that alternates the two. Past and present coexist for this character in a way she endeavors to reconcile, the two bleeding into each other as she tells her story.

Of all the Women’s Prize shortlisted titles I’ve read so far (I only have one more left, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock), I think there’s some seriously fierce competition, but When I Hit You still stands held and shoulders above the rest for me. It’s the most unflinching look at the psychology of those who endure domestic violence that I’ve ever read. But it’s also politically charged, and keen to examine the broader role of women in contemporary society, and it also critically examines any kind of ‘feminist’ discourse that places blame upon those who are unable to escape abusive relationships. Ultimately, this is thought-provoking, incisive, and beautifully written, and I think it would be a most deserving winner.

21 thoughts on “book review: When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

  1. This sounds like such a good novel! I totally agree with you, it’s never as easy as just leaving if the relationship is abusive. I’m so happy you’ve written this review. Now I can add When I Hit You to my summer TBR pile. This sounds particularly interesting to read, especially because it seems to acknowledge that looks and reality aren’t always the same… Lovely review! 🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was so excellent, I really hope you like it! Yes, exactly, it really focuses on the contrast of how their relationship looks to people on the outside, vs. the reality of it. It was so brutally honest and occasionally difficult to read, but so rewarding.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ooh I’ll definitely wait for your review of The Surface Breaks as I can’t make up my mind if I want to read that – I kind of want to read everything by Louise but YA fairytale retelling isn’t exactly my cup of tea… Also I just finished Almost Love last night and I didn’t love it quite as much as Asking For It but it was still pretty brilliant and I’m obsessed with her awful female protagonists.

        And I have an ARC of Whistle in the Dark, I’m looking forward to that!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll report back! I know what you mean; at this point I’ve still only read one book by her but I already feel like I want to read everything she writes. Also, once I’d seen the cover of The Surface Breaks in the flesh, it would have just been rude to leave it behind…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review! I really need to get to this soon, but it is so intimidating. The subject matter will just make me angry, I am sure. But you make it sound even more brilliant than I already thought it was going to be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! And yes, you must!!! Echoing back to our conversation about multicultural fiction, what I loved about When I Hit You is the universal themes it was addressing in a very specifically Indian context – I think you’ll find that interesting as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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