A story that breaks the skin

Hannah Atkinson in The F Word:

When-I-Hit-You-CoverMeena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You opens one of those huge great wounds. Based on her own experiences, she weaves a tale of a young wife and her abuser in India. Taken away from her family and isolated from her friends, her husband, a political revolutionary, quickly goes from controlling to violent, to eventually a very real threat to her life. Kandasamy’s poetic style jars with the violence she depicts, creating an increasingly uncomfortable read, yet one I was unable to put down. Although our narrator remains nameless, and in some ways quite distant, her thoughts became my own. She is a writer, and one of the most powerful narrative tools is her journey to completely losing her voice. Her abuser starts by removing her from social media, and it spirals from there, until she is silent. As the narrative switches from her husband to past lovers and relationships, we see her outgoing personality and vivacity, putting her silence into shockingly stark contrast.

Some of the most fascinating elements of the novel are the discussions the narrator has with her parents on the phone. It is an invaluable insight into the cultural differences of marriage across the world – the pressure for her to stay with an abusive husband from her own parents to avoid shame is heart-breaking. Similarly, her mother’s comments of how normal abuse is, and how that normalisation manifests in the words she tells her daughter, are both infuriating and full of sadness: “All marriage is slow. A marriage is not magic. You will have to give him time. He will come round.” Her mother is still with her own abuser, the narrator’s father. Part of the work of domestic abuse charities is to bust the myths that surround it, the question ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ being one of the most common and the clearest demonstration of ignorance around the problem. Kandasamy’s storytelling is an almost perfect picture of the difficulty in leaving an abusive partner. From the way their relationship starts – her, heartbroken from a previous relationship with a powerful but unattainable man, and him, a political revolutionary who talks with passion and commits to his beliefs (at least, so it seems). She marries him because he is not the man who broke her heart. And there it begins – he has the power.

More here.