Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of The Water Cure in exchange for an honest review.
There have been quite a few feminist dystopian novels like the Handmaid’s Tale and The Virgin Suicides that have been written. However, comparing The Water Cure to those books would be wrong. In my opinion, this book stands alone as something else entirely. Yes, the book does describe a world in which being a female is considered a disadvantage, but the book reads as if it is all happening in the present. While some people may argue that this book is still considered to be a dystopian, I personally did not see that reflected in the writing. My advice? Go into this book without expectations. This will not be a book for everyone, but it is so inherently unique that I think it deserves a chance to be explored by readers.
(picture from @khanlibrary)
“There is a fluidity to his 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.” – Sophie Mackintosh
The Water Cure introduces us to a man named King who has created a home in an isolated territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia and Sky. There is barbered wire around this territory that gives clear messages of “do not enter” and “do not leave”. King does this to protect the women from the dangers and violence from the men on the mainland. King and his wife have their daughters engage in brutal therapies that are meant to make their bodies and minds strong against the toxic world beyond their barbed wires. The girls are made to believe that the men of the world will harm them and that they could become sick from the mere toxicity from their breaths.
Their carefully orchestrated life turns upside down when King disappears and three men wash ashore. They seek shelter in the girl’s home and from this point onwards everything changes. The three men, James, Llew and Gwil are mysterious and quietly take over the role of King to protect the women. We see the sisters navigate their first experiences interacting with men. We also see the bonds of sisterhood tested and how they struggle to come to terms with their new reality.
Most of the story is told through Lia’s perspective. Lia is the middle child who yearns for love and finds herself drawn to one of the men washed ashore. She continuously battles over the guilt and fear of being drawn to “the enemy”, someone who could easily kill her. We are taken through flashbacks as Lia recounts rituals in which she had to hurt her sisters or kill animals in order to strengthen her body and mind. These parts were difficult to read as the author really masters how to make you feel uncomfortable. Lia’s perspective takes up the middle portion of the story, and while I did find this part to be a bit slow and dragged out, I still feel that the character development was well done. You really feel Lia’s pain and how desperately she wants to be loved.
Perhaps the most interesting character for me was the eldest daughter, Grace. We only get Grace’s perspective at the very beginning and end of the book. In my opinion, these were the best parts of the book. Grace gives us more insight into the mysterious character of King. We are told he is their father, that he protects them from the toxins of the outside world and tries to help other “sick” women. It is through Grace that we learn the truth about King and his motive. It is through her that the story finally starts to make sense and loose ends are tied.
James, Llew and Gwil are mysterious characters. Llew is the father of the young boy Gwil. James is Llew’s brother. From the very first time we are introduced to these characters, I got a sense that something was wrong. The author does not provide much information about them, and we learn more about them through their actions and interactions with the sisters. I was constantly on edge waiting to learn their motives. When everything is revealed, it was quite the surprise.
I think the most interesting thing about this book for me is how the story is written. The author does a good job in showing rather than telling. We are not told what kind of world the women live in. Instead we are shown through the perspectives of Lia and Grace. At one point the author even does a group perspective, which I believe is an incredibly hard thing to accomplish. The author nails it! I really felt the collective emotions of the sisters in these chapters. At times I felt myself feeling lost because of the way we were given little context but a lot of description. I had to really pay attention and think through what I was reading. There were many beautiful metaphors with the use of water. The writing itself was poetic, mystical even at times.
The themes of cult mentality, patriarchy and trauma are deeply explored in the story, but again it is shown to the readers through Lia’s flashbacks and emotional turmoil. We are given more information about the girl’s childhood, their parent’s expectations and how/when they are allowed to express their emotions. The water cure was eventually explained and it left me feeling uneasy but also invested in finding out more. I was beginning to feel a bit impatient for more information but it was all eventually unraveled. While the ending did feel a tad bit rushed, I was so relieved to get the full story that I did not mind.
This was not an easy book to read. At times I felt horrified, uncomfortable and a bit impatient. I was really a mixed bag of emotions and I spent a good portion of time after I was done reading thinking about how I felt about the whole experience. I realized that all those emotions meant the author did a good job in evoking a response from readers. No matter what you feel after you’re done reading, the fact remains that you felt something. Even if the feeling was anger, frustration, sadness or discomfort. The writing makes you feel, period. This for me is a good reading experience.
Happy reading bookworms!