What a strange book The Water Cure is.
It reads almost like a Sofia Coppola movie, especially The Beguiled. Girls on the cusp of womanhood spend long, languid days wandering around the home, exploring their inner dramas, wishing for something, something to happen but not quite ready for it.
Such is the case with Lia, Grace, and Sky, the daughters featured in The Water Cure. They spend their days rattling around a large and stately, but somewhat dilapidated house.
Pull the camera back for a more complete picture, though, and you see that these girls are the daughters of extremely protective parents. The parents warn them of the corruption into which the world has fallen, specifically, men. Men are predators, women their prey.
It is the parents’ job to protect their daughters within this isolated, barbed-wired, toxin-free haven they’ve created. Other women come from all around to be healed, too. The parents devise several different cures. The love cure. The iron cure. The fainting cure. The water cure.
Zoom out some more and add outside perspective and it’s easy to see that these “cures” are cult-like and abusive. The fainting cure involves sewing the girls into a sack and having them stay in a hut until they pass out. These daughters may be more prisoners than protected. And Grace, the eldest, is newly pregnant. With their father being the only man she’s ever encountered, how exactly do you think she got that way?
When men wash up on the shore, near death and desperate for shelter, it throws Grace, Lia, and Sky’s life-long beliefs into question.
It’s a strange world that Sophie Mackintosh builds in The Water Cure; one which I’m not completely sure where to place.
It’s indeterminate in time. I think of it being in Victorian times, but then we hear of a woman with headphones. I have a hard time placing the daughters’ ages, and then am shocked to hear what they actually are. In several places throughout the book, I wonder if maybe the parents are right about the men and society, then am convinced they’re completely crazy.
It’s clever, what Mackintosh does in The Water Cure. She creates uncertainty by introducing the family without explaining them. She inserts snippets about the world without giving additional context or validity. Men are complex, refusing to fit in any of the oversimplified roles they’ve been prescribed.
The Water Cure is dreamy and nightmarish. Loving and hateful. Hopeful and despairing. It’s an unsettling, fascinating novel.
The Water Cure
Published January 2019