Book Review: The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

What’s it about?

Imagine a world very close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter. This is the story of Grace, Lia and Sky, kept apart from the world for their own good and taught the terrible things that every woman must learn about love. And it is the story of the men who come to find them – three strangers washed up by the sea, their gazes hungry and insistent, trailing desire and destruction in their wake.

(Blurb borrowed from Amazon)

My thoughts

What a book. But the blurb doesn’t really do it justice. It’s the story of three girls and their parents, Mother and King, who live in what seems to be an abandoned hotel on an island. There has apparently been some apocalyptic event on the mainland, and the girls can only be saved by staying on the island. That is probably the simplest summary I can give. I think this is a rare chameleon of a book, one that will take a different form for every reader. I’ve seen it described variously as a feminist dystopia, a thriller and a coming of age story, but none of those labels work individually. It’s all of those things and more.

Mackintosh’s writing is hypnotic, eerily calm in the face of danger. It’s languid but also frantic, a barely suppressed sense of panic rising as the story progresses. She has that gift of conveying surroundings through sparse description; you can feel the summer heat, taste the sea salt from King’s ‘cures’, hear the muffled footsteps in the decaying house.

There’s no one truth here, but different versions tumbling together to create a kaleidoscope of reality. There is a strong sense that nothing is what it seems here, and every event, every person, every place has an equal and opposing side. Are King’s ‘therapies’ actually helpful or the actions of a tyrannical abuser? I honestly don’t know.

While reading it, it reminded me strongly of the Odyssey. Specifically, a version of Book 12 told from the point of view of the sirens. But again, I don’t think that fully fits, just gives one small point of view. It also reminded me of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, and I wondered if that had been an influence. From the ‘feminist dystopia’ point of view, I can see how that would partially work- although there are various parts where it falls apart for me- and it’s the most likely label to be attached to it. There have been a slew of these type of novels recently, possibly due to the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale and I think this is one of the most affecting. I’m still thinking about it, trying to make sense of it, over a week after finishing it.

Would I recommend it?

Yes, I would. Give it time, let it get under your skin.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh is published by Hamish Hamilton priced £12.99

I received an advance copy to review thanks to NetGalley.

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