The Water Cure, by Sophie Mackintosh

Grace, Lia, and Sky live on an island with their mother and father. Their father, King, has staked out their territory by surrounding it with barbed wire on land, and by anchoring buoys in the water. These are meant to keep people from the mainland out, and to remind the girls that it’s not safe to leave.

Men on the mainland are violent and toxic. On the mainland, women are in perpetual danger from them. But on the island, women find a safe haven where they can heal from the violence and toxicity they’ve endured.

King puts his girls through strange therapies and rituals that are meant to keep them strong against the toxicity and degradation of the rest of the world. But when King disappears, the girls and their mother are left alone on the island not quite knowing what to do.

Then three men wash up on shore and their whole world gets turned upside-down…

My review:

The Water Cure was on the long list for the 2018 Booker Prize, and I can see why. The way Sophie Mackintosh writes is…lyrical? haunting? The writing alone drew me in. The story itself is certainly haunting, and the way Mackintosh tells it is (purposely) deceptive, which I also liked.

On the subject of deception, The Water Cure didn’t end up being at all what I thought it was going to be. It is dystopian fiction, but not in the way I was expecting. And that’s not a complaint, just an observation. I really enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised when I realized where the story was going.

The whole story is based on fear, and fear is a powerful thing. King’s daughters have been raised to believe that everything outside of their “fortress” is dangerous and could encroach on their way of life at any time. If the toxicity of the outside world spreads farther, it could seriously harm them. They have been raised to be prepared for any and all emergencies.

“Emergency has always been with us, if not present emergency then always the idea that it is coming.”

Eventually, the outside world WILL get in, and they need to be prepared. They have seen what the rest of the world has done to the women who come to find sanctuary on their island, and it isn’t pretty. And the fact that the story is based on fear and on a lifetime of seclusion makes everything that happens in the story totally believable.

The story is told from the first-person point of view of the daughters, so we really don’t get any details about why the world is the way it is, or what caused it to become so dangerous and poisonous. We only know what Grace, Lia, and Sky are told or how they interpret what they’re told. I think this is a really effective way of making everything feel more mysterious and scary.

I found it interesting that I chose to read The Water Cure right after reading Tara Westover’s Educated, knew almost nothing about it going in, and it turned out to be another survivalist story about sheltered children who are raised to believe that everything outside of their family home is dangerous and out to get them. Though the stories are very different (not only because one is a memoir and the other is fiction), there are many similarities between the two.

Goodreads says that the hardcover edition of The Water Cure is 288 pages (I read the ebook), and the chapters are short, so it’s a quick read. It took me two days, but only because I had other things I needed to do. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “must read,” but it’s a good book and worth reading if it sounds like your kind of thing. I really like Mackintosh’s writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story unraveled. I’m glad I read it and would recommend it to people who enjoy dystopian fiction.

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