The Water Cure

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

I struggled a bit with this book. I liked the premise, but it didn't quite live up to the expectation. I had hoped for a more developed book and set of characters, but instead, I found them a bit lacking, hard to follow, and hard to connect with. Things picked up and improved a bit by the end, but it was a bit too late for me.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy form NetGalley, but I wasn't required to leave a positive review.
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"King once told us you can get used to anything, and it is strange how quickly the ghost becomes normal." 

Sophie Mackintosh's "The Water Cure" is a not-so-dystopian novel that focuses on three sisters - Grace, Lia and Sky - who live with their parents on a remote island set apart from the rest of civilization. The novel slowly pieces together moments of their unconditional upbringing until it breaks with the disappearance of their father. And after three mysterious men appear on their secluded beach, everything they once knew begins to fall apart.

It took me a few attempts to get into the novel, but since finishing it, "The Water Cure" really stuck with me. Although there are some plot points that remain unresolved, overall, I enjoyed it. The tone of the novel feels like you're underwater yourself - beautiful, if a bit cloudy, and it takes a few moments to get acclimated. 

However, the characters, especially during the "part one: father" chapters, are quite interchangeable. I found the lack of characterization frustrating at first, but the characters eventually evolve, Lia and Grace in particular. While I wanted a bit more from "The Water Cure," it was the perfect atmospheric novel for a cold January day.
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A cryptic tale of three daughters, secluded from the world and taught to fend for themselves and, in particular, defend themselves against the toxic world of men. A beautiful and haunting debut from Sophie Mackintosh reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides.
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Struggling to figure out what to say about this book. I loved the prose. I found the writing style simple and bleak, just like the setting for the novel. But overall, this book fell short for me. I think the dystopian world was underdeveloped to the point where it was difficult to figure out what was going on and how things were connected until the end. Better context would have been nice throughout the whole book, otherwise the dystopian setting just seems...weird. They take weird baths. The men and the land are toxic. The women are living together away from everything else, presumably to protect themselves from the toxic dudes. One of them is pregnant? Which, okay, if the men are toxic and she must protect herself from them, how is she not also toxic now? Their father dies and their mother leaves/disappears (not a spoiler as both happen very early on and forms the premise for the book). But why? Not entirely sure how I could get into Mackintosh's head here to figure out her reasoning for any of these things. She did provide answers for some of these questions but I thought they were lackluster or surface-level answers where given. I did really enjoy the way the book picked up toward the end, however, but would have loved a more developed novel. I recommend this to folks who really love abstract dystopia and excellent prose!
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Three sisters are isolated from the dystopian world, living with their parents. Occasional women show up who go through a ritual called the water cure. The story picks up when three men appear and how the sisters interact with them.  Love and cruelty are examined through the various therapies and relationships. I would have like to have known more of the place the men came from.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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"The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Virgin Suicides in this dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men"

This was a very accurate pitch for this book as I believe "The Water Cure" emobodies elements from the above two titles. "The Water Cure" is an interesting story as it takes on rape culture told through a dystopic lens. I would recommend this title to any fans of dystopian literature.
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Forget everything the publishing world has put out about The Water Cure. Chances are it is nowhere close to being an accurate picture of the novel. For one thing, it is not similar to The Handmaid's Tale in any way. For another thing, there is nothing feminist nor vengeful about the story or the characters. If I have to compare it to another book, it is most similar to Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed, but even that is doing Sophie Mackintosh's debut novel a disservice because it sets up expectations that the story does not meet.

In talking to a friend about The Water Cure, I said it was beautiful and haunting but confusing and weird, and that is how I still feel about the story. There are no explanations about the outside world that satisfies readers. We learn nothing about the family's backstory that would help make sense of the refuge offered to women, the cures used, and why. What little we do learn is disturbing, especially when you remember that the publisher is marketing it as a feminist revenge fantasy.

The only reason I opted to finish the book is due to the writing. It is beautiful and evocative. Capable of hiding the most brutal behavior behind poetic descriptions, Ms. Mackintosh's prose holds your attention. Unfortunately, it also camouflages the flaws in the story until the end, when you are left to wonder what exactly you read and why you finished it.

I am sure there are going to be those readers who will think The Water Cure is one of the best new releases of 2019, and that's great for them. For me, the cult-like aspect of the family with its cruel lessons about love is not something that impresses me. There are better books out there that also explore family and love and gender relations and do so in a way that does not frustrate you with gaps in the story or nebulous clues requiring you to fill in those gaps. The writing may be excellent, but it is not enough to overcome the story's paltry plot and weak characters.
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Three sisters live on an island, isolated from the violent horrors of the wider world, protected by their father, known only as King. However, when King disappears (and shortly thereafter, their mother too) the girls are left to contend with the truth- that horrifying levels of misogyny and violence exist not only in the unknown, but within their own family.

Billed as a feminist dystopian novel, I was immediately interested in The Water Cure and was excited to receive an eARC from @goodreads and @penguinbooks (thank you!) (also explains the cover, which is not the much prettier version of the print copies) The Water Cure is lyrical and evocative, which provides sharp contrast to the to the veiled horrors of the outside world as well as the cruelty within the girls and their family. I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed it - it was a difficult read, even if it was pretty. Much is left vague, paralleling the unknowns the sisters face, and creating spaces for the reader to insert their own projections. I think I would have liked a little more context/exposition, but others will enjoy the experience of the novel just as it is. 

Recommended for those who love dark, evocative, dreamy prose, coming of age stories, and dystopian nightmares. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Everyone is born into their own unique circumstances. Good. Bad. Indifferent. From infancy we are completely dependent on our caretakers. We learn their cues, their language, their ideologies. What is there to argue when this is the only way of life you know.

Grace, Lia, and Sky. Three sisters raised in their secluded home by Mother and King. Purposefully segregated away from the toxic world. While growing up they were subjected to rigorous therapies to keep their bodies in tip top shape to fight off any wayward toxin.

King has taken every precaution he can think of to keep the world away from his property and family. Barbed wire lines the forest, along with hidden traps. He’s a man that takes care of his family. Creating new therapies as the girls grow. King  makes trip to the mainland to restock on provisions, using a boat and the sea channel at the port just below the property.

This port is what used to bring women to the house. Battered and bruised, reeking with toxin from the world and carrying distrust toward any man. Mother would apply the therapies and King would be a presence in the corner of the room, while the girls spied on progress from the top of the stairs. Always present, never involved.

For the unsuspecting, this life is perfectly normal. What happens when there is a bump in the road? How do you deal with a feeling you have been forced to push away before your first steps? What happens when the last thing to come to the shore is a threat no one could have prepared for?

Note: While I may not look upon some of the things I say as a spoiler, others might. It is never my intention to spoil a book for anyone. Please proceed at your own risk. Also note, this book contains quite a few triggers.


Let’s break this whole book down, shall we?

The Cover: The cover is what drew me to read this book (I have the one on the left). I thought it was intriguing, very eye-catching. I actually did not notice the Margaret Atwood quote until I was roughly 50% of the way through the book (OOPS!). That old quote “never judge a book by its cover” just doesn’t bode well with me. I have and continue to choose some books solely on their covers.

The characters: This is rather hard to talk about without immediately giving some things away. Remember, this is all my opinion, and this is how I perceived the book. We have three main characters; Grace, Lia, and Sky. Three sisters brought up under our supporting characters; Mother and King. Not much is known about King up front, other than he has died (relax, it’s not a spoiler, it’s essentially spelled out for you as soon as you start the book). I feel that from start to finish we slowly build up each character’s distinct personality. Like coaxing a kitten out from hiding. When first starting this book it is slightly odd the reactions to King’s death. Mainly, Mother doesn’t know how to deal with grief.

Love isn’t brought up regularly. In fact, after King passes away Mother leaves “No more love” notes all around the house. From birth, Mother and King would subject the girls to therapies to ward off toxins of the dying world. In the early years women from … let’s just call it beyond … would come to the house wanting therapies to get over the horror in the world. The women would rarely stay more than a month, and their stay always ended with “The Water Cure” (yes, it’s one of those books where the title of the book actually makes sense).

The therapies- Here’s where we get into some triggers. There are several different therapies mentioned (I’m sure there were more not mentioned). We have:

The drowning game
Fainting sack therapy
Scream therapy
Love therapy
water cure
I’m not going to go into detail what they’re about- it’s not always an easy read with these- I’ll let the reader get into these on their own. The fact that these girls were brought up with an ever-changing list of therapies to encompass growing up bothered me. It made for an interesting story though.

The underlying tone- I’ve read a few interesting points made by others. One is this book is a feminist book. I don’t really take that point of view. Why? Sure, it’s about the girls, but I truly believe they are acting only on what they’ve been taught. If they had been raised in the “real world” with real ideals (and common sense) half the stuff in this book would not have happened. I’ve also seen this as a #metoo movement piece. Again, I don’t really see this as a movement. Once again, my opinions, I could be DEAD wrong, but neither of those really hit me in the feels that they had a connection to this book.

So what is the tone of the book? I took this as a 100% dystopian. In fact, I really do not see it that far from the truth. I am sure, somewhere out there, right now, are people raising their kids away from the “real world” with their own ideologies, no common sense, no tact for conversing “normally”. As I said in my introduction, how we are raised from the beginning forms an integral part of what is “us” and how we react to the world.

The end-Well obviously I’m not going to tell you the ending. I will tell you that there were a few surprises. Some info I had called from the beginning, but it was nice to get an explanation at the end. I can’t say that I was surprised by the ending, but it also wasn’t what I expected.

The Good:  For Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, she definitely gave me a lot to think about. I enjoyed the cover, the short chapters, the easy-to-read story.

The Bad:  If you’re looking for a lot of explanations, you’re not going to get them. Any explanation given is fragmented, and the story jumps a lot. In some places I thought adequate information was given, in other places I wish I knew more about a backstory, or about surroundings.

The Ugly:  Unfortunately for some people, this will be a trigger book. There’s really no way around it. At times it was hard for me to read, I did set the book down every now and then. However, explanations and descriptions are over very quickly, with minimal reminiscing in other scenes.

“The Water Cure“ by Sophie Mackintosh is available now! I was chosen by Netgalley  to receive a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Given that fact, it has not altered my opinion on the book at all.
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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early December.

This book seems to be a little familiar to a Herzog film, Last Words, but with more dystopia and permeating threat. The sisters speak individually and as one, remembering their lives as only having each other, their mom, and (at one time) their dad. Their mother is frequently in crisis mode and places her daughters through preparatory trials to face the outside world away from their island. However, three men arrive - two brothers and one of their sons - initially quite harmless before becoming microaggressive. Admittedly, some of the more distressing situations and encounters, even without the men being involved, I found to be triggering in the sense that the women were vulnerable and experiencing psychological turmoil and abuse.
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This was an absolutely gorgeously written book that I found unfortunately a little difficult to follow. The characters were complicated and nuanced, and the premise was fascinating, I wish I could have captured all of the nuances.
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After seeing this listed for the Baileys Prize, and reading the synopsis I was extremely interested in picking this one up.  
So after reading it -I regret that at times I was a little put off with the violence of men towards women-also a little too cryptic for my understanding or taste-it is though beautifully written, and the prose is hypnotic. The story in itself to me wasn't fleshed out enough, and the ending seemed a little rushed.  

Overall, if you are looking for a feminist fantasy, I would recommend this one-just be warned that this one is written abstractly and unique.

 I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank Sophie Mackintosh and Doubleday Books for the opportunity to read and review this.
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In a world where men are so toxic that they are literally destroying women, King moved his wife and children to an isolated beach house where he forces them to take part in bizarre rituals and therapies as a way to protect them from the dangers of the outside world. However, when King goes missing, the women are forced to fend for themselves, which is made all the more difficult when 3 men wash ashore on their beach one day.
While I ultimately enjoyed this book, it is not for everyone. The writing is very poetic and beautiful (Mackintosh is a wonderfully descriptive writer), but a little difficult to connect to. The girls have been raised in a cult-like environment their entire lives, which makes them somewhat unreliable narrators and, as a reader, you’re never quite sure what is going on. That being said, this is another example of a book where the takeaway is do NOT fuck with women. There are great themes here that explore feminism, sexuality and toxic masculinity, and I found myself rooting for these women to find their true selves and take control.
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Dreamlike and at times unclear, but enough to keep you reading. Reminiscent of many of the other feminist dystopias popping up, and unfortunately one that sort of blurs together with the others.
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This book was really weird. I thought it was a dystopian novel and I suppose it's up for interpretation, but it read more like a cult or one of those memoirs by kids with crazy parents. The writing was actually really compelling, but the story was just too weird for me.
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I was instantly pulled into this book, with so many questions, that I needed keep turning the pages to find out what would happen. Mackintosh does an excellent job of building tension through quiet prose, slowly peeling back layers to this story, as each of the girls, both together and separate, give voice to their thoughts about anything from their own relationships with each other to that of their mother, their father, their life on the island. 

While the story starts off calm, there are ripples that form with small instances of rebellion or apathetic mentions of abusive behavior that both stun and puzzle the reader as to what is truly going on. With the arrival of the men, their world is thrown into chaos and the girls begin seeing rapid change and their own personal philosophies are thrown out of sync. I love how Mackintosh gives such varied voice to the three sisters, making them stand out in their own way through small, but numerous little glimpses. The other characters take shape through the sisters' eyes, so the reader can only piece together a tattered, perhaps biased view of them, making the reality of their situation questionable.

Overall, it's a stunning book, very thought provoking, and I couldn't have imagined where it would lead me. Though I'm not normally a fan of multiple points of view, here, I think, Mackintosh has utilized this tool to the greatest effect. It really shines. I will definitely be recommending this book.
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Grace, Lia and Sky are raised on an island away from a world where men can hurt them. They live with their parents, parents who run them through a daily bunch of tests and actions to make them safe from whatever these men in the world can hurt them with. They are taught that just breathing the air from where the men are can kill them. Other women come to this island to be cured. No one else stays.

One day, King, their father, is gone. Their mother says he is dead and they begin a different kind of life. Their mother still adheres to all the old rules. Our story is told by Grace and Lia. Grace is pregnant. Yes, you read that right. That makes your brain go one hundred miles an hour. Lia is struggling with emotions. They aren’t supposed to feel them. Until the one day, two men and a boy wash up on their little utopia….

This has such a hazy, atmospheric quality to it. I felt the bones of the big old house they lived in. I felt their breaths as they played the drowning game. I felt the cuts Lia inflicted on herself. It is really harsh. Their mother was tough. It was hard to sympathize with her. There were truths that were revealed and I just was shocked. It is hard to put this book in any box . I have not read anything like it. The writing is superb.  I think I will think about this one for a long time.

Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin for an advance copy of this book.
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King keeps his wife and daughters safe. He's created obstacles around the island so that the women can be protected from the violence of the men of the mainland. One day, King disappears and the women must survive without him. One day, three men wash ashore and everything they know, changes.

There was a bit of The Beguiled in this story for me. It's violent and abusive and hard to read at part, but there's a beauty to the story as well. The story draws you in like a beautiful sunset but then trusts you into the storm. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Sophie Mackintosh and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.
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The Water Cure
Sophie Mackintosh
Doubleday | January 8, 2019

Amazon | Powell’s

Off the shore of a remote island, three sisters navigate the currents of grief after losing their father—assumed dead after disappearing at sea. The unfolding narrative that follows in Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure, is both eerie and stunning, driven mostly by poetic devices in the language and dramatic action. Told in elliptical vignettes, the scenes culminate in a coming-of-age story that delves into the psychology of womanhood. Raised to believe that the “mainland” is filled with men who will harm them, the three sister protagonists—Sky, Lia, and Grace—wade through the possibility and curiosity of this supposed truth.

At the start, King, the father, disappears mysteriously at sea; soon after, two men and a young boy arrive on the shore. The disturbance of their arrival begins to test the boundaries of authority between Mother and her three daughters and the men. This fraught tension unveils the psychology of this wondrous and dark setting made real by King and Mother’s upbringing, where damaged women who have arrived on the shore undergo water cures in order to be cleansed.

A basin is filled with water and salt before a woman is forced into it, face down, until she is rescued by her own breath again. The sisters witness these cures and assume an even darker world lies beyond the outline of their island, where men are all unkind, consciously or not. They are raised to believe that this precise kind of violence is a form of redemption. These cures and rituals repeat, performed not only on the women who arrive to the island but to the sisters as well, testing their limits on how much they are willing to express kindness to one another as much as inflict harm. It’s a fractured way of raising children, a disturbing upbringing that eventually unveils the complex potential of how the protagonists will survive. Mackintosh has created somewhat of a modern myth about family trauma, stirred with the relationships between women and their bodies.

As the characters disappear—King taken by the sea first, then, later, Mother too—the story’s point of view shifts between sisters, though the majority of the novel is told through Lia’s perspective as she falls in love with Llew, one of the men who arrive after King disappears. This form of storytelling is reminiscent of the elegiac structure of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, influenced not only by its pattern of multiple voices but the poignant poetry implemented in the language:

I should be thinking about atoning. But all I can think about is how when he kissed me for the second time he put a hand to the back of my head as if conscious of keeping me upright, and he was right, I did think I would fall, the swing of the sky as if I was on the edge of drunk, of something—and how did he know that I felt that, how did he know to hold me upright, my titling body, my eyes open wide?

The language is lucid, efficient, an accumulation of sentences that become an amalgam of beauty and pain. When Mother tries to educate her daughters on how careful they should consider men, the prose cuts straight. “‘I know what it’s like to be a young woman,’ she tells us. ‘I know all about what can destroy you.’” We wait for her to tell us more. “‘It’s natural, what you’re feeling,’ she says, addressing me specifically this time. ‘It’s natural to want to look.’”

A constant throughout the novel is the focus on the assimilation to water, evocations to how it moves and glistens, how it swallows, how it can be imagined as a place of rescue as much as a place of departure—and further, a cleansing. Water encircles the cast so that the mosaic of these vignettes is somewhat held in the net of its structure. From this place, after the three men wash ashore, needing help, food, and accommodation, their arrival slowly turns the lives of these girls, and their mother, astir.

Lia, Sky and Grace offer a representation of how young women deal with grief once a familial structure is undone, in the way of filling empty spaces that begin to present themselves. The characters navigate through their desires and hesitations, longing to satiate their curiosity about what’s beyond the world they understand, beyond the border made visible by the perimeter built by King. Whether it’s truly as dangerous as they’ve been told or if they are capable of surviving it—a world filled with men—is the question at the center of this haunting novel.
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3.5 stars rounded up. There's no denying that Mackintosh's writing is beautiful. There are some haunting bits of prose here, but it's written in such an accessible, easily digestible way that I found myself flying through the pages and finishing this over the course of two evenings. While there were things I didn't love quite as much (there were some things I wish were explained in more detail/more context given), I liked that the author managed to make a few rather powerful points without being too preachy/over the top.
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