Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Meena Kandasamy's new book is a fascinating account of a writer's process, and an absorbing reclamation of authorial control

Book Review by Laura Waddell | 04 Nov 2019
  • Exquisite Cadavers - Meena Kandasamy
Book title: Exquisite Cadavers
Author: Meena Kandasamy

Following frustrations with the reception of When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, a bold and often brutal feminist depiction of domestic violence self-defined as a novel but labelled a memoir by some critics, Kandasamy sets out with her latest book to explicitly examine strengths and weaknesses of the dividing line between autobiography and fiction.

The title, Exquisite Cadavers, refers to the experimental Oulipian technique of assembling artworks from multiple contributors’ pieces, and this book marries two forms. Running centrally through the book is a fictional account of couple Maya and Karim, and in the form of notes in the margins is Kandasamy’s parallel account of thoughts and research while writing it, scrupulously showing her workings and asserting which is which.

Often, the authorial notes are more satisfying than the fiction, but they come together to explore overlapping themes. What transpires is a rich and absorbing text full of allusion to domestic Indian politics, Marxism and feminism. It’s equally a fascinating account of a writer’s process, and a successful reclamation of her own authorial control. If what we write is of course informed by what we know, Exquisite Cadavers asks the old question of why books written by women are dismissed as memoir so often, but does so in a remarkably fresh way. Kandasamy’s work becomes more bold and exciting with each new book.

Atlantic Books, 7 Nov, £5.99