Review: The Water Cure

There is something rising in us, and I am glad. I want to stop for a moment and let it was over me.”

The first of my “Sea” themed August reads. This time it is The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. 

I’ll admit that I was so captivated by this read that I almost forgot that I had to write a review of it. Looking back at the notes on my phone (my go to method for recording my thoughts as I read) there is very little to go on. And yet this is a novel which lingered with me for days after I had finished it. It is surreal, mysterious and haunting; and most probably unlike anything else you will read this year. 

I’m sure this is a novel which you have seen all over #bookstagram. It’s been nominated for countless awards including the Man Booker Prize and seems to have garnered almost universal praise from critics. Such praise usually makes me wary but the premise (three sisters live on an island, removed from a contaminated world and subjected to bizarre cures to immunise them) and the cover overruled this. 

I remember spotting the book in February whilst having a browse in the Foyles at Waterloo whilst I waited for my train. I snapped a picture of the cover and made a mental note to pick it up soon. When I started my blog I knew it was one of the books that I wanted to review. 

The story begins, auspiciously, with the death of King – the father of the three sisters. His presence pervades the rest of the novel, an unseen threat who has warped the girls thinking; he seems to lie in wait for any moment of rational thinking from the girls and steers them back to his self-serving irrationality. We only see King through the narratives of the sisters, and this makes him a larger than life, dreadful character. 

Mackintosh’s prose is light, precise and full of dread which is somehow heavy. From the threat of the men, the mainland and its toxins to the tales of the women who once came for King’s cures to the unhealthy love the girls have for eachother there is a “hair on the back of your neck stand up” sensation to the whole tale. You are never allowed to feel at ease. Her characterisation of the girls is clever – their voices are unnervingly innocent  

The setting, an abandoned hotel left to ruin, bordered by sea, untamed gardens and a threatening forest is perfectly gothic. The women, trapped by the sinister force of King’s “cures” seem like hapless, innocent heroines in a dark fairytale. Only this time the men who come to rescue them (three of them as well) are not knights but seemingly malevolent beings who look at them with hunger and desire. 

This feeling of dread and claustrophobia, heightened by the seemingly lack of action and sparse scenery has a soporific effect. 

This is in part a richly dark feminist fable, in part thriller and a chilling dystopian novel. It is unlike anything you have read before.  

The anger of women seemed a force from outside them. It was an anger that welled up deep in their chests. Without it, they would not have been able to survive.”

The whole novel is an exploration of what happens when women’s choices are restricted. Much like in Vox where women have their words taken away, the only means the sisters have of expressing emotion is the “scream cure” or silently sobbing in bathrooms. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that anger, resentment and suspicion begin to grow. Does Mackintosh want to warn us that the limitations society places on women will have dangerous repercussions?  

Final thoughts: I really don’t have too much more to add. This is genuinely one of the best novels I have read this year and it is one which I will revisit in the future.

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