Dhaka, Bangladesh
'I wrote my novel in real time'

'I wrote my novel in real time'

Meena Kandasamy on her uniquely structured 'Exquisite Cadavers'

What is going on in a writer's life as they work on a certain paragraph or a specific chapter? What are they thinking about? Who else passes through their days? Whom are they missing? In Meena Kandasamy's new novella Exquisite Cadavers, she allows the reader a glimpse into the life that ran parallel to the writing of the book. Alongside the story of a young married couple, Maya and Karim, living in London and navigating racism and Islamophobia, are the author's notes in the margins. She shares what she's thinking, how a particular idea came about, where she went that day, where her research leads her, what personal fears become (with some variation and adaptation) the character's fears. She isn't verbose in these notes. Nor are the notes written the way a writer may express themselves in an interview. The notes are as much a product of craft, if not more, as the fiction. Experimentation in fiction can sometimes read like an exercise whose only intent is to be provocative, but Kandasamy's dual narrative in Exquisite Cadavers is engaging. She spoke to Scroll.in about the unique structure of her novella, the rules she has for manuscripts-in-progress and the role of editors, political engagement as an immigrant, and the ways in which writers of colour and non-Brahmins have historically been excluded from laying claim to avant-garde writing and intellectual spaces. Excerpts from the interview: ... When writing Exquisite Cadavers, which employs a unique format, how did you decide which notes would accompany which chapter? Some of the connections between Maya and Karim's story and the marginalia are quite clear. In other places, the connections are less tenuous and surprising. The author's voice in the margins is, of course, a work of art as well. Were the two kinds of text written at different moments? Let me take a moment to explain how the writing was done. The marginalia, or the smaller column on the side, documents the various inspirations, they are like a diary of what is going on in my life at that moment of writing, and deal with where ideas, political contexts, preoccupations come from. The main text - the story of Karim and Maya - is something that is birthed out of this raw material. So, there's no question of deciding which notes accompany which chapter - because the notes are sometimes the concrete that goes into building the narrative of that chapter, sometimes they are a two-way mirror into what goes on in that chapter. As the story progresses, we see that the life and experiences and inspirations of the author begin to either find parallels, or inverse representations in the story of the characters as well. Sometimes, the margins remain silent (as during the portrayal of the fathers) - and allow the characters to forge a world all of their own. Because I had taken it upon myself to painstakingly note down where the inspiration and raw material was coming from, or to chronicle my preoccupations at the time of writing a chapter - the book evolved in a series of chapters - and the next chapter (both texts) wouldn't begin until there was a narrative resolution to the previous texts. (To be continued)

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