Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel, The Water Cure , was released just under a year ago, and it has left quite an impression on readers and critics alike.
The post-apocalyptic tale follows three sisters raised in isolation. The world beyond is almost unlivable, and men in particular carry potentially fatal toxins that specifically attack the female body. Physical contact can make the skin blister and swell - even close proximity can cause violent illness. The protagonists’ parents chose to raise their family away from the madness and completely separated themselves from the outside world.
The sisters, Grace, Lia, and Sky, were raised in fear. The only man they have ever known is their father, King, who acts as the family’s go-between for the outside world and the family’s remote island home. King suddenly goes missing on a routine supply run, leaving the women to fend for themselves with only their militant mother to protect them from encroaching doom.
Soon, a group of shipwrecked men wash up on their shore. They have no way of leaving the island, so the sisters are forced to coexist with them until a rescue party comes to take them back to the outside world.
The book is told partially from Grace’s perspective, partially from Lia’s, and at times collectively by the three sisters. These differences in narration are difficult to follow at first, especially Grace’s, whose narration is essentially a letter directly addressed to one of the other characters. However, once you become acclimated to the unique style of writing, each sentence becomes a pleasure to absorb.
The strange bond between the sisters and their isolated lives is reminiscent of the Five Wives in Mad Max: Fury Road. Both stories are set in post-apocalyptic worlds, and both stories follow a group of women who have been terribly wronged by men. Indeed, there are several cinematic parallels to be drawn: One reviewer from The Guardian commented, “Mackintosh is writing the way that Sofia Coppola would shoot the end of the world: Everything is luminous."
The sisters’ bond is unlike another, both protective and aggressive. Mackintosh makes such strange relationships believable, even inevitable, from her enchanting descriptions of their shared life. The author’s voice is nothing if not original and fresh.
Mackintosh occasionally has the Dickensian tendency to drown readers in the moral of her story, however besides these rare instances, the story is enthralling. Mackintosh’s voice is fresh and provocative, her characters well-developed and sympathetic. I myself sped through the book in only a few hours and enjoyed every moment. It’s a spellbinding blend of revenge, loyalty, and paranoia.
Even after it’s done, the story stays with you, churning around in the back of your mind as you try to make sense of the nightmarish world Mackintosh has created and how easily our own reality could spiral into chaos.