Water Cure (Mackintosh)

The Water Cure 
Sophie Mackintosh, 2018 (2019, U.S.)
Knopf Doubleday
288 pp.

A dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men

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?

A haunting, riveting debut about the capacity for violence and the potency of female desire, The Water Cure both devastates and astonishes as it reflects our own world back at us. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
Education—University of Warwick
Awards—Longlisted-Man Booker Prize
Currently—lives in London, England

Sophie Mackintosh is a British novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, The Water Cure, was nominated for the 2018 Man Booker Prize.

Mackintosh was born in South Wales and grew up in Pembrokeshire. When she started writing, her initial focus was on poetry, but gravitated towards prose fiction, which she has combined around holding various jobs during her 20s.

She is bilingual, and cites Welsh mythology and Angela Carter as influences. Mackintosh enjoys running and eating, and is working on a new novel. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/28/2019.)

Book Reviews
In most apocalyptic tales, the reader is expected to accept certain baseline assumptions. The first is that the apocalypse is real; the second, that the story's main characters represent its truest victims. Sophie Mackintosh subverts both of these assumptions in her sumptuous yet sparsely written debut, The Water Cure…. Mackintosh delicately draws the reader's attention with haunting, oblique prose.
N.K. Jemisin - New York Times Book Review

An extraordinary otherworldly debut…. [Mackintosh] is writing the way that Sofia Coppola would shoot the end of the world: Everything is luminous.
Guardian (UK)

Creepy and sexy in equal measure, The Water Cure is a hypnotic portrait of three young women waking up to the world, desire, and the power of their bodies.
Independent (UK)

[A] chilling, beautifully written novel…. [T]he tautness and tension of the writing are staggering.
Judges Panel Citation - Man Booker Prize, 2018

Ingenious and incendiary
The New Yorker

Sensational…. Mackintosh’s taut novel turns a keen, unsparing eye on violence, patriarchy, and desire.

Mackintosh’s novel follows in the footsteps of The Handmaid’s Tale… but this debut has its own alluring style, which has prompted comparisons to The Virgin Suicides for its gauzy, heady sexuality; lacy, precise prose; and the luminous sisters at its core.

[An] intense, ambitious debut…. Mackintosh’s gripping novel is vicious in its depiction of victimhood, vibrant when victims transform into warriors, and full of outrage at patriarchal power, environmental devastation, and the dehumanization of women. 
Publishers Weekly

[I]image-laden and lyrical… imagines a societal breakdown that has inflicted most of its harm on women, which seems both frightening and inevitable, offering a dark, extended metaphor on toxic male/female relations. —Reba Leiding, emerita, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Library Journal

[A] spare, dystopian debut.… While the narrative at times veers toward the pedantic, it's… [an] evocative coming-of-age novel that captures the fear, rage, and yearning of three women growing up in a time of heightened violence.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. There has been a huge boom of feminist dystopian novels in the last few years. How does The Water Cure fit into the conversation surrounding these titles and in the culture at large right now?

2. The narrative perspective shifts throughout the novel. Sometimes we hear Lia’s voice, sometimes Grace’s, and sometimes the three sisters collectively. How do the multiple points of view affect your reading experience?

3. From the ocean they live on, to the backyard pool, to their bathtub, the girls are constantly surrounded by water. How does water function as a symbol within the novel?

4. “We hold hands very tightly, so we can blur where the I ends and the sister begins.” The concept of sisterhood is important in The Water Cure, but it’s complicated. How does The Water Cure define a sister? What obligations come along with that role?

5. The rituals and therapies invented by Mother and King are designed to eradicate emotional responses in their daughters. Why do they want to manage their daughters’ emotions? What effect do their therapies end up having on their daughters?

6. Mother and King cite safety as the reason they keep their daughters isolated from the rest of the world. What does it mean to be safe? Are Lia, Sky, and Grace safe? At what cost?

7. How did your perception of Mother change throughout the course of the novel? In your opinion, how responsible is she for the way the sisters grew up, and how much is King’s fault?

8. It’s not clear what will become of sisters after the novel ends. What do you predict will happen to them?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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