I’m awake at 8am on a Sunday because I have an impending opportunity in the next week which could *change my life* (!!!) and so I am naturally struggling to sleep. So I’m writing a review of this amazing book I finished this week, after reading it for only four days between work. I can’t quite put into words how much I enjoyed it but since that is the point of a book review, I’m going to try my very best.
If I were to describe The Water Cure in three words, those words would be :
Poetic. Haunting. Provocative.
The main premise of the book is centred around three sisters who are raised in complete isolation from the rest of society, because the world is deemed too toxic for women to survive it. They live on a coastal island which is brought to life in every line by Sophie Mackintosh, who writes with such wisdom and poeticism I had to stop after every sentence and breathe for a few minutes to contain myself. The narrative style is interesting, each girl takes it in turn to drive the story with her own, as well as as a collective to allow for a more objective presentation of events. Whilst this means that the novel takes a while to reveal itself to the reader, it also adds layer after layer of depth to a story which just keeps giving and giving.
Split into three parts, the book begins with the death of the girls’ father, whom they refer to as King. The book continues to document their past with him, under his lead, and how he and their Mother led a gruelling upbringing in order to keep them safe. The girls are essentially tortured, over and over, to build a tolerance to the world outside, to become strong enough and the cleanse their bodies enough to fight off any toxicities the future may bring. These toxins come in the form of three men, who later arrive on the island, and the girls must navigate their way through this time with little experience or reliable knowledge of how to survive.
As an English Lit student, I often find myself compulsively trying to pick apart the meanings of books and what the author is trying to tell us. Whilst this book is simply an amazing story, I think its certainly one of those books that I should definitely comment on what ‘meaning’ I gathered from it. The dystopian nature of the novel suggests the situations and circumstances described is an end point; it is the result of something in our own world surviving and progressing to reach such a position in the future. I was personally intrigued by the way that real life issues that effect women in our own world were alluded to, such as the apparent struggles of mental health which one of the sisters, Lia, clearly battles on the daily. There are also allusions to abuse, and whilst I don’t want to spoil anything for potential readers, there are elements that suggests that even the men closest to us women can betray or hurt us, physically and emotionally. Whilst I don’t think Mackintosh is trying to denounce all men like the dystopian suggests, she does draw attention to the way women are viewed and treated in our own society, and possibly suggests that progress isn’t happening quick enough.
The title is centred around one of the many methods of cleansing, of strengthening, of protecting themselves against the danger of men- The Water Cure. The girls tell readers how women used to arrive on the island, damaged and seeking refuge. After much therapy designed by King, who is viewed almost prophetically, the somewhat ‘untainted’ man, the final cure is The Water Cure, a test of drowning. The way Mackintosh describes these trials and tests, particular from the point of view of the girls themselves, was probably my favourite part about the book.
Overall, I would describe this debut as a beautiful novel that ambiguously navigates gender relations, but also explores the ideas of love, and what it means to love, as well as mental health, self-harm and the overarching feeling that anxiety can impose on a person’s life. I don’t know if these were Mackintosh’s intentions, but I this is what I gained from the book, and I felt the ways in which it allowed me to make my own conclusions was masterful.