When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy
Today on The Tattooed Book I review the final novel on my Women’s Prize for Fiction reading list, When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.
Suffering from a broken heart after leaving the first man she ever truly loved, an unnamed Indian woman finds herself attracted to the passionate ideals of a university professor. They marry quickly and she moves in with him, far away from her family and friends.
It is only weeks before her autonomy begins to be stripped away. He demeans her career as a writer, reads (and even responds) to her emails after demanding the password. She gives in to his arguments; there should be no secrets between them, they should trust each other implicitly. She needs to delete her Facebook in case the CIA can find him, she cuts herself off from the world.
Soon all her emails are deleted, her phone is gone and he allows her only 3 hours of internet use a week. After a month of marriage, the violence begins and it only gets worse from there. She manages to tell her parents but the shame that a failed marriage would cast on her family poisons every phone call:
‘Do not talk too much. Never in the history has anything been solved by constantly talking.’
‘Do not talk back. You can never take back what you have said.’
‘Don’t you understand? Silence is golden’
When I Hit You opens as the female protagonist’s reflections after she has escaped the marriage. The first few pages are vibrant and brimming with humour as she describes how her mother recounts her escape to everyone and anyone who will listen. It’s dark but also easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable. This is who the woman truly is. It is as she reflects back on her story that the humour is crushed and she describes inhabiting a role to survive her ordeal. This change in writing reflects how she herself was changed.
He blames her feminism, he blames her for being middle-class, he calls her a whore and he teaches her lessons she’ll never forget.
This novel is brutal, fierce and at points, it brings a lump to your throat that’ll make you feel sick. The violence and control she suffers from are immense but as she slowly finds ways to escape her situation through writing, manipulation and eventually playing a character, she turns from victim to heroine.
She pushes back, she gives in, she blames herself; she goes through all the stages. She knows she has allowed the situation to happen but the shame of giving up and the lack of support from anyone around her leaves her stuck in an ever-worsening situation.
When I Hit You makes for galling reading, and although it feels wrong to say it, makes for enjoyable reading too. Her journey and use of language to break down her emotions with such clarity make her every action completely understandable. This novel is an education on how anyone is susceptible to abuse from their partner, making it painful but necessary reading.
Check out my review for the Womens Prize for Fiction 2018 winner Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.