A dark allegory in disguise
By Nayantara Bhat
When read literally, Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure is set in a dystopian world where most of the women have succumbed to toxins produced unknowingly by men. Alone on an island with their parents and sheltered from the poison, three sisters grow up together, learning how to protect themselves from men.
This vision of the world is uncomfortable enough when imagined in a literal sense, but the metaphorical elements are as, if not more, terrifying. As the plot progresses and new lines are drawn, the parallels between The Water Cure and our world start to become undeniably clear. Control, victim-blaming, and toxic masculinity are three themes that seem to reverberate right off the page. The girls’ father, for instance, subjects his family to torturous “therapies” intended to stifle all emotion–for emotion, in his view, makes women vulnerable to violence by men.
The entire novel is permeated by a grim and eerie sense of rising urgency, intensified by the slow pace of the writing. Reading this book felt like trying to run through steadily-deepening water, in the best possible way. Mackintosh’s writing evokes a constant sense of dull panic, and is so engaging at times that the real world can feel off-kilter after a long stretch of reading.
Apart from the well-crafted prose, what stood out was the ending of the book. I wanted the conclusion to go somewhere inspiring and truthful, and it did–but not in the way that I had imagined.
The Water Cure is a dark, thought-provoking story that stays with the reader long after the book ends. It’s not quite a summery, poolside novel, but it’s worth a read nonetheless. –NB
Cover art courtesy of Penguin Random House.