For my 20th book of 2019 I chose ‘The Water Cure’ by Sophie Mackintosh from my pile of t0-read books. I originally heard about The Water Cure from YouTube and I saw that it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, so I picked it up when I was browsing in Tottenham Court Road Waterstones. I’m so glad I did. The Water Cure is by far one of my favourite books of 2019 up to now, coming close with The Haunting of Hill House, Rebecca and The Virgin Suicides. I couldn’t put it down!
I think the main reason why this book appeals to me so much is that I really enjoy stories that are set in remote areas of the world. The Water Cure is set on a remote island away from normal civilisation. I find myself drawn to books with few characters too, as I like reading about intense relationships and drama – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a good example of this. This book is full of the above, with a few shocks put in there too for good measure.
In this book, three sisters live on a remote island with their parents. Life on the island is all they have ever known, and their parents have nurtured them to believe that men are toxic (apart from their father, King). The girls are told that even breathing in air from the outside world is deadly and will eventually cause serious damage to them. For this reason, leaving the island seems like hell to them. One day, after the tragic death of King, three strange men turn up on the island, causing havoc among the girls. The story follows the three girls of varying ages and their relationships with each other and their mother. The story is told through the point of view of each sister interchangeably, but the main character is Lia, who tells most of the story.
The love-hate relationships between the characters are interesting. The girls seem to change their mind about their mother all the time, and as the reader, I found myself doing the exact same. She was the mothering type one minute but then she seemed like the enemy. Throughout the book their mother protects them, cooks for them and looks after them but then all of a sudden she will put the girls through cruel tests that force them to prove their love for one another. She also makes the girls undergo “therapy” by forcing them to drink salt water until they throw up and “cleanse.” During these harsh scenes I really sympathised for the sisters and felt annoyed that their parents essentially brainwashed them. This is why the relationship between the sisters was so strong – they had to stick together.
The Water Cure could be Mackintosh’s meditation on feminism too. I see it as an analogy for women’s relationship with men. They can seem cruel and manipulative, even unfair, but we allow this anyway because we need them and we love them. This is mostly obvious when Lia becomes interested in one of the men, and can’t seem to stop herself even though she knows the risks.
My favourite theme in this book was definitely the nature over nurture narrative. These girls have been lied to. They were told so many untrue facts it makes me angry. They believe them as gospel because their parents have told them and they have no reason not to believe them. What the parents brought the girls up to believe was cruel in my opinion, but also interesting to read about.
I thought Mackintosh’s writing style had the perfect balance between being descriptive and concise. I find books that are too descriptive boring, and books that are too concise unemotional. The emotional writing really hits home with me and I can feel for and empathize with the characters. Emotive writing is definitely what this book needed.
I recommend The Water Cure to anyone who loves stories that you can just get lost in. The book’s main themes are sisterhood, motherhood, trust, nurture and love. Similar to The Virgin Suicides it feels like a very “us and them” situation – us being the sisters and them being the parents. You can see how the mother’s actions influence and affect the daughters, but in a very non-explicit way. There are a few loose ends in this book. I think Mackintosh wanted to leave it up to the reader to decide what happens which I love, but some may not. If you want to know the answer to every little thing at the end then this book may disappoint you.