Some women might dream of a world that is free from the patriarchy — for the females of The Water Cure, their life in isolation has resulted in a hatred (and fear) of men. Sophie Mackintosh’s novel is a startling and eerie debut and one that causes an array of reactions and questions from those who have read.
Separated by the sea, sisters Grace, Lia and Sky have lived a large portion of their lives away from the outside world. Living alongside them is their Mother and Father (who they refer to as King). Their home has become a retreat to women who are seeking refuge or therapy. They’ve been raised to believe that men are toxic and any interaction with them will lead to them becoming gravely ill. The sisters are also expected to live free of emotions — partaking in a series of self-harm rituals to rid their bodies of real feelings and human experiences. After the loss of their father, two men and a boy wash-up to the shore, setting off a series of events that question the way they’ve lived their entire lives.
I’ve seen references to The Water Cure as being similar to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a resemblance I didn’t see. The only Atwood connection I noticed whilst reading The Water Cure was the inclusion of strong female characters. Even though the parental figures of the book have tried to recreate a perfect utopia, the novel isn’t exactly a female dystopian — it’s a complex novel that focusses on the psychological implications of abuse and living away from the world.
There’s an atmospheric quality to the novel and Mackintosh’s use of water adds another layer of emotional depth to the story. Though the story is particularly gripping, it's her captivating prose that hooks readers in. There are some elements in the book that may be questionable — such as whether the voices were unique enough — but, Mackintosh’s style of writing flows like a body of water, delicately weaving between perspectives.
Longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Water Cure is a dazzling debut novel by Sophie Mackintosh, and a must-read for anyone who is interested in reading about the female experience of the patriarchy when living without it and whether women are truly free from its wrath, even when in isolation from it.
Release date: May 31st 2018 by Hamish Hamilton