Review – When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

when i hit“Explosive”, “shattering” and “scorching” are just some of the words used to describe Meena Kandasamy’s novel about a young woman in an abusive marriage. Based on her own personal experience, Kandasamy has created a powerful story that will stay with you long after you finished reading the last word.

The Plot

An unnamed narrator, a writer, decides to tell her story about her marriage and subsequent escape from it, in a bid to protect and control her narrative from her mother’s continuous retelling of what happened, which has, in her words ‘mutated and transformed’ so that the important details no longer remain.

After a failed love affair with a politician, the narrator meets a university lecturer and former revolutionary. After their marriage, they move closer to his job, where she doesn’t speak the local language except for a few words of wifely domesticity used for shopping and the like. Her husband soon takes control of her life, limiting her contact with family, friends and colleagues via the internet and the phone, effectively cutting her off from support and isolating her. He espouses Marxist philosophies which he uses to manipulate and denigrate her, emphasising his utter disregard for her career, her intellect and very being. Before long his emotional and verbal abuses escalate to include regular beatings and rape.

My thoughts

Despite the subject matter this wasn’t as difficult a read as I thought it would be. I think knowing that the writer was writing of her past and had obviously come through it was part of it. But mainly, it was her candour and slightly snarky humour as she points out the hypocrisies of her husband’s philosophies, and the gendered indiosyncrasies of Indian society.

But even with the humour, you cannot get away from the seriousness of the situation, as the writer’s husband systematically breaks her down, to erode her self worth and identity to reduce her to to nothing but a mere object, and one not even worthy of love desire but to be used and discarded at will.

The most heartbreaking moments were her conversations with her parents who initially suggest that maybe she is being overly sensitive to her husbands behaviour and encourage her to adapt to him, and to humnle herself to make him happy. As his behaviour, escalates, they find new ways to advise her to remain in the marriage, thinking only of the shame of having a daughter who ran away from her husband.

In many ways their response, and indeed the societal expectation placed upon women is just as emotionally abusive as her husband’s. And thinking about it from that perspective makes you see the importance of taking action, to change and take control of the narrative, as this writer and so many others have been brave enough to do.

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