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.