When I Hit You is the double-edged title of Meena Kandasamy’s relentlessly brutal but beautifully written novel. Originally published with the appendage: Or, A Portrait of a Writer as a Young Wife, Kandasamy tells the story of a women, writer and feminist whose identity is stripped away as a result of her husband’s systematic emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
The exquisitely constructed prose is made all the more poignant as Kandasamy’s words chronicle the torture delivered by a cruel and oppressive husband. Each chapter forces you deeper into the toxic marriage, creating a sense of shared trauma. To read this book is to understand domestic abuse on an intimate level. While Kandasamy makes no attempt to soften the physical reality of domestic violence, it is the narrator’s first-person experience of abuse that invokes true empathy in the reader.
The novel is written retrospectively, following her escape from the marriage. It is from this position that Kandasamy tackles the journey from victim to survivor. The physical abuse is not sensationalised, but internalised as she attempts to cope with her abusive environment and the aftermath of her torture. It is through language and the reclamation of the female voice that Kandasamy is able to write her body, project her identity and shape her world: “my woman’s body, when it is written down, is rape-resistant.”
For Kandasamy, it is this written woman, outside of judgement and patriarchal constraints, who hits back. The title reduces it’s abuser to the page, and traps him inside her poetry. The husband becomes the pathetic punchline in this fiercely determined book, as Kandasamy gives her survivor the words to set herself free.
A note on the author: When I Hit You is a novel. However, five years before it was published, Kandasamy wrote an essay on her own experience of surviving and leaving an abusive rapist husband. The essay generated an outpouring from victims of domestic abuse, but also raised judgements from others: “why did she stay?” “she should have left.” Her novel is a response, and her narrator, “the woman deputed on her behalf.”
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When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy. Published by Atlantic Books, 2017.