The Water Cure

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

Grace, Lia, and Sky live on an island with their mother and father. They are safe from the toxins that have sickened so many in the outside world, and they are safe from the men who would hurt and abuse them. In the past, women sometimes came to the island, seeking shelter from the men who hurt them. And they are welcomed, but only after going through purifying rituals, such as the water cure. Ritual is a big part of life on the island, and, although the three sisters haven’t undergone the water cure, they’ve been sewn up in sacks and left in a sauna, they’ve held their breathe underwater for as long as they can, they’ve had to choose whether to suffer or to allow a sister to suffer.

When this novel by Sophie Macintosh opens, the sisters have just lost their father, King. His occasional trips to the mainland to get supplies was their only connection to the outside world. Eldest sister Grace is pregnant. And then, a trio of men (or two men and a boy) turn up.

Macintosh uses multiple voices to tell the story of the island. The three sisters sometimes speak together, and Grace and Lia sometimes speak as individuals. Lia narrates most of the book’s middle section, where the bulk of the plot appears.

I don’t think it will come as much of a shock to anyone to learn that all is not as it appears on this island. And much of the nature of the deception is also probably not that surprising, although there were a few details that I didn’t necessarily expect. What’s important, however, are not the details of what this world is really like but the dynamics within this family. And that’s where the surprises, such as they are, tend to appear. The story of the men and the island’s connection to the outside world was, to me, the least interesting part of the book, but they worked fine as a vehicle for the stuff I did care about.

The book is mesmerizing — I read it in an afternoon, eager to see what was coming next. I don’t know that it says much that’s original, but it reminded me of many books that I admire, perhaps especially We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but, really, any book about closed groups of women who are (or believe they are) under threat by men. So a lot of books. I suppose what I’m saying is that this book draws on lots of ideas and tropes that I like to read about and remixes them in a way that I enjoyed.
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'Then we are all just useless there on the lawn, already painfully overgrown, waiting for Mother to find us.'

Just what is so terrible out there beyond the territory (island) that King keeps his daughters Grace, Lia, and Sky along with their mother under protection? What sort of men are beyond the waters, dangerous enough that it requires barbed wire? Just what has soured the mainland? Will we ever know?

The girls are cleansed through strange rituals, therapies to cleanse them from the world’s rot, but there is no cleansing for when in mourning. Their father disappeared, and now it is just the women. Is he dead? Missing? What will they do without King, father, protector? What will happen when the threat arrives, in the form of strangers, men?

We know once there were women who sought shelter, but from what? The Water Cure is beautiful and frustrating at the same time. I kept wondering, has the world gone to hell or is this just some brainwashed family, and the men that arrive don’t really confirm much about the world out there. There is a line, “The real trick is how and why we continue surviving at all”, that speaks volumes because really what sort of life do they have? Sister’s only for company, clueless about the world beyond, controlling their personal energies (feelings) in ways the toxic world didn’t ever prepare for, leading to destruction. What are these therapies, to us laughable at best, which lends more to the ‘these women are brainwashed’ theory. “In the heady days without our father, we let our bodies sprawl.” Suddenly their days and bodily toxins are less measured with King gone, their mother swears daughters are ‘hardwired for betrayal’, again making me question King and their mother. Okay, has there been some sort of epidemic?  King travels to the mainland for meager supplies, certainly if other women came to the island something is wrong on the mainland, right?

Strong feelings “weaken you”, and women are full of them. The other women who came, got sicker or better and left. Damaged women, drifting through the girls lives by boat, one even escaping as the girls themselves would if they chose to. But, why would anyone need to escape a place meant to save, a place she chose to come to? A ‘promised place’ according to her mother and King. People don’t run from a healthy world, right? As a reader it’s so hard to take the ‘preparations’ seriously. All one keeps thinking is, ‘this is one deluded couple.’ But the women ‘recoiled’ when they first saw King, so maybe there is some meat to the whole ‘world gone awry’ business. Are the men this bad or is King just feeding his girls a diet of fears to keep them from growing away, becoming women? Better to control their bodies, desires, tame their sexuality, which is why men and the mainland are such a threat. Let’s say the world is normal, much like our own, let’s face it there are enough horrors acted upon women that make them recoil too, it doesn’t require a natural disaster, just a bad man.

A lot of time is spent telling us feelings are bad, that “trauma” is a toxin, well by that token any ‘mainland’ is ruinous, dangerous, and toxic  therefore there is no need for an apocalypse. “Without our father, it is very hard not to think about things going wrong.” Obviously they are all ill prepared anyway, women alone on an island, surely King had to know a time would come when he couldn’t protect them anymore? Safety in numbers, and if family is all that is true and good, shouldn’t they want to create their own families too at some point? Parents won’t live forever. Not much preparing there, eh?

When the men come and emotions catch fire, the sisters come apart. Desire can’t be contained anymore than nature can, because we are nature too. Maybe men are the toxins, with their pulling and pushing, wanting and discarding when boredom arrives. “She was just like every other woman.  Eager and tender-hearted.” Girls, easily manipulated with all their wants, desires, their treacherous toxic ‘personal energies’ always in excess with girls, women. Women, trapped forever “absorbing the guilt and sorrows “ of the world. Maybe women are islands themselves. I know my review is disjointed, but that is exactly my feeling after reading the novel. I don’t trust it and yet I can dig some meaning here and there. It comes off as a sly feminist work.

Of the men, James has some insight to share about the world that is and isn’t dangerous for women, not much different from our own, really. There are lies, so many lies and maybe a life that could be ‘open’ to the girls beyond the island. I can’t divulge much more because it would ruin the story. I enjoyed the writing, it was a uniquely strange novel but I was also irritated without solid answers. No, I don’t need all my stories with happy endings, or tidy explanations but sometimes, with some stories there is a build-up and you expect something to sink your teeth into. The ending here ends up being as dreamy and open-ended as the entire novel. I am still rubbing my eyes in confusion, what was that all about in the end? I both know and don’t know, and maybe that is the intention, to be as unsure as Grace, Lia and Sky.

Publication Date in US: January 8, 2019

DoubleDay Books
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Raised in fear and isolation, three sisters are taught to fear men and the poisoned world outside their own. They are made by their parents to undergo painful rituals and training to keep themselves “pure”, made to manipulate each other to make themselves stronger. When their mother and father go missing, and three men wash ashore, everything changes. The girls begin to learn the truths about the world they’ve been kept from and the lies their parents had spun for them begin to unravel.

Mackintosh’s distinct voice and unique prose really brings this story to life. Her language is magical, compelling, and lyrical; the book reads like poetry. The immersive story and beautiful language makes this debut a truly one-of-a-kind read.
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TW: Self harm.

This novel follows the lives of three sisters who were raised on an island and taught to fear all men aside from their father. Believing the outside world to be dangerous, they frequently perform a set of rituals to "cleanse" themselves of the world's toxins. These rituals - sometimes ordered by their parents, sometimes self-inflicted - are meant to cause physical pain in order to release any bad or worldly emotions. It will be uncomfortable to most, but it could potentially be triggering to others. 

Things start to escalate when some mysterious men show up on the island. Mackintosh does a great job of creating unease as the three sisters navigate their conflicting thoughts around these new men. That's where this novel shines -- with the introspective and interpersonal relationships. This isn't a dystopian where you will spend a lot of time exploring the world's new reality. Rather, you will be confined to the island, with the sisters. 

The Water Cure is a great addition to the feminist dystopia genre. Personally, I think this will be one of the more "readable" titles on the recently-released Man Booker Longlist.
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I don't even know where to begin. 1st, I'm not sure it's appropriate to call this dystopia. It's a Handmaid's Tail wannabe that didn't work. 2nd, can we just not with the not-really-incest-but-let's-allude-to-it crap? Yes, I like Game of Thrones, but this is just creepy and unnecessary. 3rd, I don't feel the strong feminist pull here. It just didn't work for me, and it would be better described as a story about a cult, not a dystopia.
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The Water Cure was a beautiful, shocking story of three sisters, struggling to survive in a world where the truth is concealed, and danger lurks around each corner. 

I am in love with this book. It was heart-achingly wonderful. I held my breath at parts and felt burning rage at others. These sisters are beautiful, complicated, strong, rough things, and you will fall in love with them. 

I will likely come back to this review when I'm not reeling from this gorgeous story, but for now, just pick this book up and sink into it.
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Very intriguing read. It was hard to follow at times, but the plot was unique. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own
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For the most part I really enjoyed this debut novel, and while I am not quite so sure it is 'Booker material' (although I wouldn't be incensed if it DID make the shortlist), it at least managed to avoid most of the flaws of a 'first-timer'. Sure there are a few languid patches, and sometimes it seemed in need of an additional edit, but I really liked that the author didn't feel the need to cross every T or dot every I, so that one could ponder exactly was going on here without it all neatly wrapped up in a bow. 

While reading, I was often reminded of other works, such as 'The Handmaid's Tale' cited in the précis, as well as former Booker nominee 'The Chimes. and Edmund White's first (largely forgotten) novel 'Forgetting Elena', and even at times of Mervyn Peake! But Mackintosh, I felt, has her own unique voice and style, and this is certainly promising enough that I am eager to see where she goes next. 

My sincere thanks to both Netgalley and Doubleday for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this, in exchange for my honest review.
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**Note - The blog post for this review is scheduled for 12/19, closer to the actual publication date. I would be happy to schedule sooner at the request of the publisher.**

I finished Sophie Mackintosh's The Water Cure a few days ago and instead of reviewing it straight away I had to let it sit for a bit.  I still don't fully know what to think or feel about it, so I'm going to try and muddle through my mixed feelings here to do some sort of a review.

Mackintosh's writing is to be envied.  It's lyrical and lush without being verbose.  As a matter of fact, it's somehow stark. The whole novel reads like a fever dream, with bizarre rituals and "exercises" that made my stomach turn at the level of abuse they meted out.  Behind that horror, there's the feeling on Lia's constant, claustrophobic need for love and affection--and rightfully so.  That's all a hard balance to achieve, and I can totally see why it's on the Man Booker Longlist for 2018 even ahead of its US publication date.

Ultimately, The Water Cure is a beautifully written book with terrifying subject matter, though it does leave the reader with more questions than answers.  I highly recommend--even though I still don't know how I feel about it.
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The Water Cure was nothing like I expected, but I ended up enjoying it all the more for that. This is a vaguely unsettling, eerie tale of three sisters who were raised by their parents on a remote island to fear all men other than their father. They believe the outside world is dangerous and toxic, and they regularly perform painful rituals and ‘therapies’ to cleanse themselves. But then their father vanishes without a trace and three strange men wash up on their shore, and the novel takes place over the span of the week that follows.

The biggest surprise for me was that I was expecting a Handmaid’s Tale-esque feminist dystopia, but in reality I wouldn’t actually describe this book as a dystopia at all. I think a certain amount of ambiguity in this regard is intentional, especially at first, and I think there is going to be some healthy debate about how you can read this book, as a lot of questions deliberately go unanswered. But if the appeal of dystopias to you is the worldbuilding and big picture stuff, The Water Cure will undoubtedly disappoint. To me this felt more like an allegorical contemporary (or if not contemporary, at least set in the very near-future) whose strength lies more in its exploration of complex interpersonal dynamics than in its merit as a dystopic text. I’d compare it to King Lear or The Beguiled (and I would not be surprised if Sofia Coppola directed an eventual film adaptation) over The Handmaid’s Tale or The Power.

But for me, its inability to fit neatly into the ‘feminist dystopia’ genre is only an asset. Sophie Mackintosh has created something strong and uniquely unsettling. Her prose is remarkably lyrical, and the insular setting she crafts is at once immersive and claustrophobic. This is a novel whose themes exist slightly below the surface, and though it has a lot to say about gender roles and social dynamics and what it means to exist in modern society as a woman, none of this leaps off the page at a quick glance. There’s an incredible amount of depth and subtlety here, especially for such a short novel.

The biggest problem – really, the only problem – I had with this novel was that I was occasionally unconvinced by the fact that these sisters had lived their entire lives so removed from society. Not only were their vocabularies littered with colloquial phrases in a way that seemed at odds from how their parents spoke, at times they drew generalizations about human nature in a way that didn’t ring true for someone with such a limited world view. But this is something I found myself forgiving more and more as the novel went on, as it ultimately had the air of a fable, and I didn’t find myself too hung up on the details.

Basically, don’t expect another Handmaid’s Tale, but don’t think it isn’t worth your time because of that. I actually liked The Water Cure better.
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*This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes*

This book is difficult to describe. The basic plot is that a husband and wife and their three daughters isolate themselves form the rest of the world on an island, with the purpose of ridding themselves of the violence of the rest of the world. They partake in ritualistic cleansing, mostly the three daughters; Lia, Grace and Sky. One day King, the father figure, leaves the island for supplies and never returns. Shortly after his disappearance three strange men arrive on the island. The majority of the plot takes place over the course of the week that these strange men on the island.
My favorite thing about this book was the writing. The writing was beautiful. The overall tone had a calm and sort of fluid quality. The writing style mimicked the flow and feeling of water, in a way that reflected the importance of water in the plot.
I wasn't a huge fan of what the plot was trying to do. I enjoyed the underlying feminist message that it was trying to convey, but the central theme got a bit muddled at some point. I was unclear about what the author was trying to tell us when it came to the parts about the sisters and their interactions with the strange men. At some point the author reveals something about one of the characters that is pretty easy to deduce from the beginning of the book. She reveals this fact about 3/4 into the book, even though it was pretty obvious from the beginning. I thought that the interactions between the sister and the men was pretty confusing. Again, I was unsure about what she was trying to say about feminism or society with the use of the plot. All I got was that the sisters hate the men and only trust other women and that men are the cause of all the evil that has befallen them. I'm not saying that this was the author's purpose, it's just how I interpreted it. I think that if the plot had a more defined point of conflict and resolution, I would've enjoyed it much more.
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Unique haunting odd weird atmospheric just a few of the words I’d use to describe this dystopian tale.Three sisters raised by their parents isolated away from the world for some reason being protected from society.Their father dies their mother disappears and the real world appears in the form of men on the beach,so different so mesmerizing.Thanks @doubleday &@netgalley for advance copy.
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3.5/5 stars 

Thanks to Netgalley, Doubleday, and Sophia Mackintosh for the opportunity to read and review this book. 

I found the plot to be intriguing  yet incredibly frustrating and evasive. Even though this is intentional, asa reader who likes to know what is going on...I realized that is never going to happen for me. 

Regardless, I feel like the story is something peculiar, insightful, and not run of the mill. 

This book tells the story of three sisters: Grace, Lia, and Sky who live on a remote island with "mother" and the 'King.' The outside world is dangerous and will hurt them, although specifics are not given. In this story everything is not as it seems and what you think you know may not be true. 

Everything is deliberately vague until it is made clear at a purposeful point in the book. I think the vagueness, however intentional and critical to the plot/ character development may be a sticking point for some readers. Regardless, I am so excited for release day and to see how readers react to this book.
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In looking through the reviews of The Water Cure, I can understand why many reviewers loved this book.  The prose is very hypnotic.  I wasn't one of those who enjoyed it, however.  The type of writing and the book style is just not really my cup of tea.

I was really intrigued by the synopsis of this book where three sisters are kept apart from the world. I assumed that it was because of some kind of apocalypse as the girls were told the world and the men were toxic and the island they were on was quarantined.  But, the more I read, and the bizarreness of the story and the "cures", I now think it was the parents who were toxic.

For me, this was a very uncomfortable read. The girls were constantly being subjected to cures which I just saw as torture.  

I'm sure that I experienced what the author was trying to portray, but like I said earlier, this book, the writing, the characters, the world... None of it was my cup of tea.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for the advance copy.*
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Atmospheric and deep, this book is not to be missed. The characters are well drawn and sympathetic and I just loved it!
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Grace, Lia and Sky are three sisters whose parents have taken them away from civilization to live on an  island after a strange plague has hit. The sickness is especially dangerous to women, causing severe symptoms and seems to cause men to become more aggressive towards the opposite sex, while not making them ill at all. Raised by the mother and their father, King, in safety and seclusion, the girls are put through "therapies" to teach them how to survive, and rid them of any toxins from the outside world. When King dies, the girl's survival instincts and training are put to the test, and what follows is a dark and haunting story that leaves you with just the right amount of questions...  This may be my favorite read so far this year...
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This book kept me interested enough to read to the end, but it was quite odd and the ending was slightly unsatisfying.
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DNF at about 20% in.

Too abstract for me. After reading some reviews, it seems I am not the only one. Many reviews also said that a lot of questions go unanswered and the reader is left to make their own conclusions, so I don't want to waste time when there are many other books on my TBR.
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The Water Cure 
by Sophie Mackintosh

“King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has lain the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or, viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave."

I’ve waited weeks to write this review, because when I finished I wasn’t even sure how I felt about the book. I don’t mean that I was unsure if I liked it, but rather the content of the book was so heavy and so muddled that I needed some time to sift through it alone. 

“Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them against the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.”

So, The Water Cure features a family of five. Two parents—Mother and King, and three girls—Grace, Lia, and Sky. From the moment you start reading this book you know there’s something funny about this family. 

I don’t know what year it is or their exact geographical location, but King has taken his women and moved them to a deserted island to protect them. Or so he thought. 

As the quote directly from the book states above, some of the rituals Mother and King made their daughters do for protection and healing were cult like. And, truly, most of the rituals bordered on  abusive. 

Drinking salt water

Being sewn into a sac and put into a sauna

Being held underwater by a dress filled with weights





I had so many questions while reading this book, and most of the time they didn’t get answered. This was kind of a beautiful thing while reading, though, because I was able to share in the confusion that the girls were experiencing. 

Then, King dies. 

The women are lost, they’re running low on supplies, and then three men wash up on shore. 

The girls have never met men other than King, and they’ve been conditioned to believe that the very air that the men release from their lungs will poison them. The girls must learn to cohabitate in the absence of BOTH of their parents when their mother sets off for supplies from the mainland. 

This is when the real growth and change began. 

The girls are different. They’re unstable. 

Pregnancy, lust, and anxiety threaten to tear them apart. 

"There is no hiding the damage the outside world can do, if a woman hasn't been taking the right precautions to guard her body."

Sophie Mackintosh made me feel like I was floating in the water watching all of this happen right before my eyes. I was right next to the girls as they made discoveries. The writing was both mystical and harsh. 

It wasn’t a book that I tore through at lightning speed, but don’t let that discount it’s content. I was emotionally invested in this book, and the dark corners were meant to be savored not devoured. 

To buy: The Water Cure 

Thank you Sophie and NetGalley for the Review Copy.
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Weird, wacky, beautiful, frustrating, hypnotizing and wholly original! I am still turning these characters and their lives over in my mind, in a good way.
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