I was not expecting to read The Water Cure. Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, it came out in the UK this past May, and is slated for release in the United States in January. I picked it up on a whim while between books and unexpectedly became transfixed.
The Water Cure, Welsh novelist Sophie Mackintosh’s debut, follows three sisters: Oldest Grace, middle Lia, and youngest Sky. The three live on an island with Mother and King. There, they are taught many things, but one above all: men are evil, toxic, deadly.
“If we were to spit at them, they would spit back harder. We expected that – we were prepared for it even. What we didn’t expect was their growing outrage that we even dared to have moisture in our mouths. Then outrage that we had mouths at all.”
Readers are introduced to the sisters right as something goes wrong: King is dead. Soon after, men arrive. The carefully crafted order the family has cultivated is destroyed. As we are drawn further into the story through flashbacks and dream-like prose, a web of manipulation and disturbing rituals is revealed.
Although other reviewers have drawn comparison to feminist dystopians such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Naomi Alderman’s The Power, I am hesitant to agree. There is no unexplainable phenomenon like in The Power and women are not forced to have sex for babies like in The Handmaid’s Tale.
While it is true that The Water Cure has many elements of a good dystopian, the only differentiating factor between the world of Lia, Grace, and Sky and the world we live in is that the sisters live on an island with only one man. However, the real meat of the story is not what cruel world forced these girls to be raised without men, but their reaction to the arriving men.
“It’s the men who don’t even know themselves that wish you harm – those are the most dangerous ones. They will have you cower in the name of love, and feel sentimental about it. They’re the ones who hate women the most.”
Deeply psychological and occasionally macabre, The Water Cure the type of novel best read slowly, over the course of a few days. Take the time to fully absorb the novel. Because once you’re done, you’ll certainly need to rethink everything.