Published January 2019 by Doubleday Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
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. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.
But when their father, the only man they've ever seen, disappears, they retreat further inward until the day two men and a boy wash ashore. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent. Can they survive the men?
I was sucked into this book almost as soon as I read the first words:
"Once we have a father, but our father dies without us noticing. It's wrong to say that we don't notice. We are just absorbed in ourselves, that afternoon when he dies. Unseasonable heat. We squabble, as usual. Mother comes out on terrace and puts a stop to it by raising her hand, a swift motion against the sky. Then we spend some time lying down with lengths of muslin over our faces, trying not to scream, and so he dies with none of us women bearing witness, none of us accompanying him."I had the feeling I was about to read a dystopian novel rooted in feminism. The world of these women is filled with toxic men, both literally and figuratively.
"There is a fluidity to this movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable."I was loving the writing and Mackintosh's constantly changed point of view. The island the women lived on became vivid, the relationships between them fascinating. There's a sense of mystery and tension to The Water Cure that pulls readers through it. I wanted to find out why these people had isolated themselves, why King had developed the tests and cures he and Mother used to prepare the girls in case they are ever faced with the real world again, and how that would all play out when it happened. I was feeling a The Handmaid's Tale vibe and I was excited to see how Mackinstosh would play it out.
As I read on, it began to appear that things might not be exactly as they first appeared. Has the outer world actually become too toxic for women or have King and Mother founded a cult? Why do these men, who wash up on shore, insisting that help is coming, never get saved? Despite all of their training, is it impossible for women to resist the lure of men? I had so many questions.
What I felt like I got in the end was the story of a family, the bond of sisters, who just happen to be leading a life equal parts impending peril and complete boredom. Things go in a direction I was not expecting and I never got answers to many of my questions. Men, as it turns out though, are every bit as terrible as the girls have been led to believe.
I didn't get exactly what I was expecting, or what I wanted, out of The Water Cure but it is an impressive debut with a lot to consider and is a book that I imagine I'll be thinking about for a while.