Meena Kandasamy on her new novel, Exquisite Cadavers. Plus, read an exclusive excerpt
The book's format is an experiment that works
After acclaimed works such as When I Hit You and Gypsy Goddess, author and poet Meena Kandasamy is back with another novel, Exquisite Cadavers. The book follows the lives of a filmmaker, Karim, and his partner, Maya. The plot takes place against the background of political events, including Brexit. Every page of the novel is divided into two columns — the story unfolds on the left, while Meena Kandasamy reflects on her own life and Indian politics on the right.
Meena Kandasamy: Every writer has something to say, and she would also have feelings about what she is writing, why she is writing what she is writing, what is her position in the world, what is her take on a subject, why only some topics engage her attention. I’ve written three novels—but every time I have embarked on writing one—I’ve had to battle my reticence about it, explain/justify my need for saying that story, saying that story in that particular manner. I wish I felt confident, I wish I didn’t have this need to argue for my place in this world and for my urge to tell stories from my viewpoint. These are concerns that come from being on the margins, from histories of oppression.In Exquisite Cadavers, a part of the urge was to tell a story that was not mine. When you belong to a marginalized identity, you are thrown into tiny boxes: the woman-of-colour box, the lower-caste box, the violence-survivor box. To be an artist, you sometimes have to say, I do not speak from my anger and my pain alone. My art is perhaps all of that and a little bit more.ELLE: The format of the book is certainly unique. What was the thought process behind it?
MK: In Exquisite Cadavers, my aim was to achieve a certain transparency—show how the world of fiction was made out of the world we inhabit, how our everyday concerns are projected on the imaginary, how even when we fashion something completely divorced from us it could still bear our influences. I settled on a two-column format because it felt like a screen, a divider existed between them. Jacques Derrida’s Glas did something similar with a page divided exactly in half, dedicated to his readings of Jean Genet and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s work—and which was, as a book, a commentary on genre. My own frustrations about the issues of genre made this appear like a very necessary format. So, on the margins we have life as it is lived (you could call that memoir, diary, records), and the larger text is the world of fiction that holds Maya and Karim together.
ELLE: What made you pick this particular excerpt for us?