Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learns that what for her is a bond of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempts to push back - a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.
Meena Kandasamy is a poet, fiction writer, translator and activist who lives in Chennai and London. She's published two volumes of poetry, as well as another novel - "The Gypsy Goddess". An outspoken campaigner and a gifted poet, she's channeled her own experiences into a novel that burns, rages and grips the reader deep in their very soul.
Domestic Violence is rife in India. Reported figures vary, but it's no secret - and the consequences are horrific, with things like "Dowry Death" a very real possibility for millions of women. Here, the author uses her own experiences to tell a chilling tale of control, oppression and survival.
A tale like this is not an easy one to tell - in a lesser authors hands, it's entirely possible that a tale this dark could be almost unreadable in its bleakness. However, Meena Kandasamy is a skilled poet, and she uses her mastery of language to pull the reader by the hand and drag them through these horrific moments in a blaze of rage and fire. Every moment intended to break the narrator down seems, in a sense, to increase her strength, and this turns what could be incredibly dark segments of abuse into ones that, whilst still hard to read, aren't without an incredible sense of catharsis.
This isn't just a novel about the writer - it sheds a light on a side of Indian culture that, whilst discussed occasionally in the media over here, isn't often explored in works such as this -and as such is both enlightening and horrifying in turn. Moments containing the narrator's parents chilled me to the core - both due to their attitudes towards domestic abuse, but also due to the fact that these attitudes only exist due to long standing societal norms in the culture in which they live - leaving no-one blameless, but allowing the reader a certain amount of understanding into the situation that the parents are in, and also making the feel of hopelessness that the narrator finds herself in surge darkly around the reader.
Trapped inside both her house and her self, the narrator explores her life through letters to past lovers - allowing glimpses of warmth, humour and modernity to slip through the stormy clouds that make up the majority of this book. The contrast between the past life of the narrator and that with her husband is staggering - and these stark moments of contrast encourage the reader to root for the fiery, fun, modern, headstrong woman who is there, subdued by violence and fear but raging and ready to burn through the lies and pain that make up her marriage.
Kandasamy quotes Frida Kahlo at the start of a chapter, and it's Frida who I was most strongly reminded me of when reading this. Kandasamy, like Kahlo, has turned her rage, pain and fury into the most beautiful works of art, and as such "When I Hit You..." is a must read, and I think the best thing I've read in 2017 so far. Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, it's a work of considerable power from an author whose mastery of prose is able to guide the reader through a dark, dark world and bring them out unscathed, but not unchanged.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy