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The Water Cure

Review

The Water Cure

One might imagine, while reading Sophie Mackintosh’s dreamy and violent debut novel, that the terrifying parents she has created once believed they could heal women from pain and trauma. But by the time the story takes place, they have become inflictors of pain and the cause of suffering for the women who have sought their help --- especially for their three daughters.

The world that their father, King, has fashioned for Grace, Lia and Sky is meant to free them from toxins and harm, most pointedly the harm done to women by men. With Mother at his side, King presided over a remote beach estate, offering his cures to the women who arrive, battered and afraid. When King disappears, it throws the lives of the four women --- alone now, as it has been a while since women have rowed ashore to seek solace and healing --- into disarray. Then, when two men and a boy wash up on the beach after a storm, the sisters must confront the outside world they have never really known, and decide if they are to remain their parents’ daughters or if they will become their own women.

"This is a beautiful novel with imaginative and rich language, and fascinating, enigmatic characters living in a sparse, tense and strange world."

At the time of King's disappearance, Grace is well into her pregnancy and Lia is well into a year of being “the least loved.” Sky, the youngest, is often protected from many of the “treatments” by her sisters. As the four women grapple with King’s absence and Grace’s imminent delivery, they recall the treatments they received at the hands of their parents, some of which continue by their mother and some of which they do voluntarily. From sitting in saunas sewn inside fainting sacks, to variations on the titular water cure, the ways in which the parents control the sisters and “protect” them from a dangerous world across the water are frightening yet rendered mundane by the chilling narrative perspective.

James, his brother Llew, and Llew’s son Gwil bring some of the forbidden outside world to the beach and woods where the women live. Mother does her best to rob the men of any power they possess, but though they defer to some of her rules, they have a strength and calm that fascinate the sisters. An attraction quickly develops between Llew and Lia, followed by an intense sexual relationship. This, along with another disappearance, a death, and the growing realization of the disconnect between what their parents told them and what may be reality, challenges Grace, Lia and Sky to rethink the world, their home and, really, all they know.

THE WATER CURE is difficult to describe, especially without giving away much of its simple (but not simplistic) plot. This is a beautiful novel with imaginative and rich language, and fascinating, enigmatic characters living in a sparse, tense and strange world. Mackintosh leaves much unexplained: Has the world been poisoned by male lives and masculine power? Have King and Mother lied to their daughters all these years, or did they truly believe what they taught? Are Llew and James to be trusted with the information they share and the actions they take?

Even with lingering questions and a hazy resolution, THE WATER CURE is highly recommended. The haunting story plays with dystopian, feminist and filial themes, and the writing is often breathtaking. This impressive debut heralds a striking new literary talent.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 11, 2019

The Water Cure
by Sophie Mackintosh

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2019
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385543875
  • ISBN-13: 9780385543873