Review: Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

Meena Kandasamy’s latest novel, Exquisite Cadavers began as a response to her second novel, When I Hit You.  It follows the story of a young married couple as they navigate life and love in London and is an experimental project where Kandasamy attempts to write a story as far removed from her own as possible.

This is not a fruitless or self-indulgent exercise. By confining herself to the margins, Kandasamy opens up a new world of discovery for her reader. Each carefully documented reference is not merely an endnote or useful insight, but a window into her own inspirations, influences and literary choices.

‘Where does a writer get their ideas from?’ a curious reader often asks. In this book, Kandasamy invites the reader into what is often a sacred space: the world of their imagination, dissecting her words and worlds, cutting it open for all to see.

I can’t remember reading a book quite like it. It is thrilling to see the creative process laid bare before me. Kandasamy doesn’t offer any guidance on how the book is meant to be read so how you choose to enjoy these notes – whether you wish to read them at the end of each chapter or absorb them side by side to the fiction – is entirely up to you. I do both and part of me enjoys being slowed down, not rushing through. Part of the experiment must also be in how the book is consumed.

Kandasamy’s truth-bombs are not merely confined to the margins but are poignantly observed in her fiction; where her playful, lyrical nature shines through. There are intimate moments of reflection, digressions like one would expect a singer to make, which allows Kandasamy to segue from song to song, but these are never mere passing thoughts.

“In my third outing as a novelist, I want to preserve me for myself. I want to create characters as removed as possible from my own life.”

~ Meena Kandasay, Exquisite Cadavers

Here is a writer who felt she wasn’t being listened to, that everyone else’s opinion about her last book, except her own, took precedence.

In her side notes, Kandasamy pokes fun at her critics, at herself and at her artistic process, but never does she lose sight of the fact that she is creating a piece of art, and is doing so, for the reader.

This is a voice that commands our attention, it’s time to sit up and take notice.