Review: When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

When I Hit YOuCaptivated by a university professor’s politics and poetry, the narrator of When I Hit You falls in love with him and agrees to marry him with more feeling than thought. But what she assumed would be a life full of love and new adventures soon turns sour, as he starts to force her into the box of his idealised picture of a “wife”, bullying her into submission, breaking down her barriers with violence and finally, rape.

A sharp analysis on what a marriage looks like when undermined by violence, When I Hit You, is a powerful, painful and piercing account of one woman’s journey through domestic violence in a country sticks to tradition even when it knows better.

For me, a novel must have three elements working in equal harmony: character development, plot and linguistic talent.

When I Hit You was undoubtedly an achievement in terms of language; Kandasamy repeatedly and cleverly uses the semantic of language throughout the novel, so it is clear just how important it is to her. I found frequently that I was overwhelmed by her talent as a writer, with the intertwining of the protagonist and Kandasamy’s wordplay is skilfully executed, with readers never really knowing whose words they are meant to be reading. The interweaving of actual events and the protagonist’s fictionalised accounts of them also work to create this uncertainty within the narrative, making it an intriguing and tense read.

“To be unsure, however, is to take him by surprise; to take him by surprise is to have a fighting chance.”

The point of the novel is also evident, with the protagonist recording her journey from respected writer to victim of domestic abuse and back again. It was a clever examination into the expectations of Indian families in a modern day society and the damage that this can cause, as well as the reality of being a victim of violence in a marriage and society’s blame games.

Despite this, however, there was something missing for me within the book; it felt like there was more attention given to the language than the actual narrative and that this actually prevented me from connecting with the characters. Granted, I am lucky enough not to be able to relate to the events of this story, yet I have read many books where I have not had the same things happen to me and still been able to connect with certain aspects.

There is no denying that for a debut novel, this is a beautifully executed tale, and I can see why it was shortlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize. It is, after all, a tale that deserves to be told. Overall, however, I would have liked to feel a deeper connection with the characters for it to really resonate with me.

Star rating: ***